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For the second time, a Progress freighter has launched and, after only four orbits, docked with ISS.

For the second time, a Progress freighter has launched and, after only four orbits, docked with ISS.

This was the fourth Progress launched this year, the second to follow an abbreviated four-orbit rendezvous with the space station. Russian flight controllers normally implement two-day rendezvous profiles, but they are perfecting procedures for single-day flights for possible use with manned Soyuz missions to shorten the time crews are forced to spend in the cramped ferry craft.

The Russians have used the leisurely two-day rendezvous path now for almost a half century. So, why are they suddenly trying to shorten the travel time to ISS to six hours? Though there are many good engineering reasons, I also suspect it is because they are now feeling the pressure of competition. The shorter travel time probably lowers their costs at mission control. It also makes using the Soyuz for manned flights more appealing. Dragon for example is presently using the two-day rendezvous path. And Dragon will soon become a direct competitor to Soyuz, when it begins flying humans in the next three to five years.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

12 comments

  • Joe

    Does anything anywhere in space operations from any country happen at any time that is not directly caused by the magnificence of Space X?

  • wodun

    Why do you think Russia has changed their rendezvous procedures?

  • Joe

    The Russians original rendezvous techniques date back to the 1960’s when their computer power and other launch capabilities was very limited and the delta v capability of the Soyuz maneuvering engines was very limited. The maneuvering engine capabilities are still limited, but their other capabilities have increased enough to allow them to reach more narrowly defined launch windows. This allows the shorter rendezvous times.

    Does that make them somewhat more efficient? Of course it does. They have wanted to do that for years. To attribute that to them somehow fearing Space X is (let’s be polite) strained.

  • As I said, “there are many good engineering reasons” behind this upgrade. And SpaceX is not the sole reason this is happening. However, it is certainly a possible reason it is happening now. The Russians have had the improved technology to do this for at least a decade but did not do it.

    Look, SpaceX is not the greatest space company ever to exist. I never said that. But the company is shaking up the launch industry in many very fundamental ways with its significantly lower launch costs. (I know you argue that these lower costs really don’t exist, but every major player in the industry seems to disagree with you, including SpaceX’s biggest competitors.)

    This situation is comparable to when Thomas Edison created Con Edison and offered to electrify New York City. You don’t think that single company didn’t terrify the entire gas lighting industry? Or consider the arrival of Bell’s telephone company. You don’t think that single company didn’t shake up the telegraph industry?

    It is entirely possible for one person and one company to force an entire industry to change. It just takes vision, determination, and — in Musk’s case — a lot of personal capital.

  • Joe

    “The Russians have had the improved technology to do this for at least a decade but did not do it.”

    Do you have a source for that assertion?

    “But the company is shaking up the launch industry in many very fundamental ways with its significantly lower launch costs. (I know you argue that these lower costs really don’t exist, but every major player in the industry seems to disagree with you, including SpaceX’s biggest competitors.)”

    Again can you provide a source for the assertion that “every major player in the industry seems to disagree with” me?

    “Look, SpaceX is not the greatest space company ever to exist. I never said that.”

    “This situation is comparable to when Thomas Edison created Con Edison and offered to electrify New York City. You don’t think that single company didn’t terrify the entire gas lighting industry? Or consider the arrival of Bell’s telephone company. You don’t think that single company didn’t shake up the telegraph industry?”

    “It is entirely possible for one person and one company to force an entire industry to change. It just takes vision, determination, and — in Musk’s case — a lot of personal capital”

    That sure sounds like you think Space X must be “the greatest space company ever to exist. So which is it?

  • “Can you provide a source for the assertion that ‘every major player in the industry seems to disagree with’ me?”

    Joe,

    Have you been reading my blog? See these posts:

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/faced-with-stiff-competition-in-the-launch-market-europe-struggles-to-come-up-with-a-competitive-replacement-for-ariane-5

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/just-two-months-after-the-failure-of-its-second-stage-during-launch-russias-proton-rocket-successfully-put-a-communications-satellite-into-orbit-yesterday

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/the-head-of-russias-space-agency-said-today-that-they-need-to-reorganize-their-industry-in-order-to-compete

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/france-and-germany-in-the-european-space-agency-are-at-loggerheads-about-the-best-way-to-compete-in-the-launch-market

    And especially this one:

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/essays-and-commentaries/prices-demand-and-spacex

    I could dig up more, but this is a good start. In every case, I quote industry leaders, many from SpaceX’s competition, citing the increased competition in the field, and the need for them to lower costs. In most cases they make a direct reference to SpaceX itself as the reason for that increased competition.

    What I can’t figure out is why you have a problem with this. More competition means more companies building spaceships. It means lower cost to orbit. It means increased innovation in the industry. Yet you repeatedly want to denigrate SpaceX’s notable achievements. Not only have they done exactly what they said they’d do (provide cargo to ISS), they’ve done it cheaply and efficiently.

    Like I said, what is the problem?” What is it about private space that galls you so much?

  • Joe

    Robert Zimmerman says: Posted October 31, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Robert,

    You link to five of your own posts which link to other articles talking about other launch providers trying to make their operations more efficient.
    – One is a discussion of the relative cost of Space X launches that I set off.
    – Of the other four only two even reference Space X/Falcon 9 at all. One says ESA considers the Falcon 9 competition along with the Russian Proton for payloads in specific mass ranges. But if ESA considers the Proton competition, how can the Proton be so fearful of the Falcon 9 (which cannot compete with the Proton in payload).
    – In the other (again ESA oriented) it says: “I strongly believe we have to decide, as quickly as possible, to develop a new-generation launcher to be competitive in the market as it is forecast, and with the competitors,” Dordain said at the Berlin air show last month, a reference to new launch vehicle developments in India, China and the U.S., where Space Exploration Technologies’ low-cost Falcon 9 is challenging the global launcher market (see page 30). Note the reference to the Falcon 9 is not in quotes. It is the interpretation of the author of the article, not the ESA representative

    Nowhere in the linked to articles is there a statement that those other launch providers are responding to Space X supposed drastically reduced launch cost. That appears only in your interpretation of their alleged motives.

  • Joe,

    You don’t read very carefully. These are the actual quotes from the links, highlighted by my posts:

    From Russia: “Unless we act now – we will cease to be competitive.”

    From France: “The French space agency, CNES, quietly backed by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium, has argued that the current Ariane 5 heavy-lift vehicle has only a fragile hold on its current 50 percent commercial market share.”

    From ESA: “‘I strongly believe we have to decide, as quickly as possible, to develop a new-generation launcher to be competitive in the market as it is forecast, and with the competitors,’ [ESA Director General Jean-Jacques] Dordain said at the Berlin air show last month, a reference to new launch vehicle developments in India, China and the U.S., where Space Exploration Technologies’ low-cost Falcon 9 is challenging the global launcher market.”

    So, what are all these companies afraid of? Might it be these facts, also stated by them, not me:

    “Frank McKenna, president of International Launch Services (ILS) of Reston, Va. — a veteran launch service provider and a principal SpaceX competitor — said he has calculated that SpaceX is, on average, just under 50 percent less expensive than ILS, Arianespace of France and other established launch service providers.”

    And one from China, not included in my previous comment (http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/china-finds-spacexs-launch-prices-challenging):

    “Declining to speak for attribution, the Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them.”

    “A half-dozen industry officials interviewed here during the World Satellite Business Week conference organized by Euroconsult said they have never seen the commercial market book so much business on a rocket with so little flight heritage.”

    That “rocket” is the Falcon 9. For every booking SpaceX gets (because its price is so low) is one less booking for these competitors. They know it, and they are scared silly by this fact.

    You can make believe these companies aren’t worried about the competition SpaceX is giving them, but trust me, they are worried and scrambling very hard to deal with it.

    Finally, you completely ignored my fundamental questions at the end of my last comment. I will repeat them:

    What I can’t figure out is why you have a problem with this. More competition means more companies building spaceships. It means lower cost to orbit. It means increased innovation in the industry. Yet you repeatedly want to denigrate SpaceX’s notable achievements. Not only have they done exactly what they said they’d do (provide cargo to ISS), they’ve done it cheaply and efficiently.

    Like I said, what is the problem? What is it about private space that galls you so much?

  • Joe

    Actually I read very carefully. You have several quotes from secondary players, but not the sources themselves.

    “Declining to speak for attribution, the Chinese officials say they find the published prices on the SpaceX website very low for the services offered, and concede they could not match them with the Long March series of launch vehicles even if it were possible for them to launch satellites with U.S. components in them.”

    The quote from the Chinese dates back to April 2011. At that time Space X was still claiming they would (for example) send 13,000 lbs of cargo to the ISS for $54 Million a remarkable $4,153/lb. That quote could either mean the Chinese did not think they could compete with Space X or that they did not believe Space X numbers. Since when the terms of the Space X contract finally became known the launch cost were $133 Million and on CRS-1 the actual cargo delivered was 882 lbs (for an also remarkable – but not in the same way – $150,793/lb. But hey what is a little factor of 36 price markup among friends) it would seem the Chinese skepticism was justified

    How many of your other “experts” (both of them) based their “analysis” on simply accepting Space X claims and not on seeing how they would actually perform?

  • Joe,

    I can see why others lose patience with you. You claim that I “have several quotes from secondary players, but not the sources themselves.” Is the director of ESA a secondary player? No. Is the President of ILS a secondary player? No. Is the head of the Russian Space Agency a secondary player? No.

    All three are in charge of rocket programs that comprise almost the entire present-day launch market. All three expressed concern about their future ability to compete, with two specifically referring to SpaceX as their main problem. Combined with many other quotes from other reliable sources, it is clear that the entire industry, excluding you, recognizes the reality of SpaceX’s lower prices. And unlike you, being aware of the competitive threat put forth by SpaceX they are trying to deal with it. If I was a stockholder in any of these companies I would find that reassuring.

    You continue to ignore my basic question: Why are you so hostile to SpaceX and private space? Even if you are correct and SpaceX’s prices are not as low as everyone else thinks, they are still forcing these other companies to figure out ways to cut costs and lower prices. How is this a problem?

  • Joe

    Robert,

    “Is the director of ESA a secondary player?”

    From your own quote. “From ESA: “‘I strongly believe we have to decide, as quickly as possible, to develop a new-generation launcher to be competitive in the market as it is forecast, and with the competitors,’ [ESA Director General Jean-Jacques]”. He nowhere in quotes references Space X. The Falcon 9 reference is from the author of the article. Not ESA Director General Jean-Jacques (and I already noted that in my earlier post).

    “Is the President of ILS a secondary player?”

    ILS is an American based marketing operation that attempts to sell Russian launches. So yes he is a secondary player.

    “Is the head of the Russian Space Agency a secondary player?”

    You do not provide any quotes from the head of the Russian Space Agency and none of the linked to articles concerning the Russians even mention Space X or Falcon 9 in or out of direct quotes from anyone. So the question is without meaning.

    “I can see why others lose patience with you.”

    I can see that you do not like to deal with precision and have no patience with anyone who calls you on your (occasionally) over the top statements. It is your website, so out of a sense of civility I will leave your house. You can continue to live in your bubble (as long as it lasts) with no further interference from me past this one final note:

    http://www.americaspace.org/?p=26594

    With an ongoing investigation into the most recent anomaly on a Falcon 9 launch underway why do you suppose Space X director of mission assurance would leave the company?

  • wodun

    Joe, Zimmerman has a lot of patience. Talking to you in the comments is a sign of that.

    You are still mixing SpaceX prices for different services. Satellite launches wont cost the same as cargo delivery to the ISS and crew will also have its own cost.

    SpaceX has been a disruptive factor in the industry but they are still young and proving themselves. You can’t expect perfection from such a young program but they have been doing pretty good.

    You criticize people for having an irrational exuberance in their support for SpaceX and they may but you also have an irrational hatred for them.

    My advice is to temper your criticism with an apprecation of their accomplishments.

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