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SpaceX to freeze its manned Dragon capsule fleet at four

Capitalism in space: According to SpaceX officials, the company is suspending construction on any further manned Dragon capsules, freezing its fleet at the four capsules they have now built, Endeavour, Resilience, Endurance, and Freedom.

“We are finishing our final (capsule), but we still are manufacturing components, because we’ll be refurbishing,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told Reuters, confirming the plan to end Crew Dragon manufacturing.

She added that SpaceX would retain the capability to build more capsules if a need arises in the future, but contended that “fleet management is key.”

This decision — to only use reused capsules — will of course give SpaceX to ability to lower its prices for manned tourist flights, but I doubt that will happen at this time because there isn’t anyone presently available who can compete. Instead, the company will rake in more profits.

The decision however does indicate SpaceX’s own assessment of the present space tourism market. If the company thought it needed more capsules in its fleet to match the demand, it would of course build them. Right now, it appears the company has decided four capsules is enough to cover NASA’s needs, as well as any additional private commercial flights. It also suggests SpaceX is anticipating the eventual arrival of Boeing’s Starliner into the mix, which will pick up some of the business that so far has belonged entirely to SpaceX.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

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14 comments

  • Andrew_W

    I interpreted it as the arrival of Starship on the scene in the not too distant future making the Falcon stack redundant.

  • Richard M

    It also suggests SpaceX is anticipating the eventual arrival of Boeing’s Starliner into the mix, which will pick up some of the business that so far has belonged entirely to SpaceX.

    It could be. It could also be, too, as Andrew says, that SpaceX really wants to shift to Starship as soon as they can.

    Indeed, Joey Roulette is saying basically that after interviewing Gwynne Shotwell this morning. “The move shifts resources to Starship development.” [https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/exclusive-spacex-ending-production-flagship-crew-capsule-executive-2022-03-28/]

    Starliner has (of course) been a real fiasco, though all signs point to it really being ready for an uncrewed test flight in May. I think it is not *unreasonable* to think it will be flying humans next year. And I have to say, much as I loathe Boeing, I will be glad if it does, because the redundancy is urgent now with Russia making itself a pariah. It won’t be very price competitive with Crew Dragon, though it does at least put a $90 million/seat ceiling on what SpaceX could jack its price up to.

  • Edward

    I think it is a combination of both. Starship should be operational for human flight in two or three years, but in the meantime a large demand for private spaceflight has not materialized at Dragon prices. Starship should be able to put up more than a dozen people at a time for a total price tag near one Dragon-seat. As Starship capacity increases, seat prices drop, and demand increases.

    Meanwhile, four Dragons may be one more than SpaceX needs, and development of a human-rated Starship can commence.

    From the article:

    “Starship, if it achieves its design objectives, would be able to affordably replace everything that Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon can do.”

    A major difference is the dramatic increase in mass and mass moment of inertia for the small commercial space stations to manage while starships are attached to them. Dragons and Starliners would be gentler on the equipment.

  • Jeff Wright

    Dragon is a simpler beast than Starship. I might have had six.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Can Starship put 100+ tons into LEO and then re-enter and land, without topping-up in orbit? If not, that means one or two additional launches for each “working” launch, unless there is a fuel depot handy. But inevitably Starship requires additional launches for fuel. I suspect capsules will come in handy for transporting people and high-value materials for a while, to make the number of Starship launches manageable.

    Maybe a Superheavy can be turned around in a few hours, but a larger number of F9-type launchers would better support a diversified space economy for the foreseeable future, IMHO. And the number of SH launch sites (and their attendant isolation required by noise) is also going to be modest for a while.

  • Andrew_W

    Refueling of Starship is needed for beyond LEO flight not for LEO missions.

    I wonder how quick they can get at turning Dragon around, if they could do it in a week they could shift a heck of a lot of people even with just 4.

  • Edward

    Ray Van Dune asked: “Can Starship put 100+ tons into LEO and then re-enter and land, without topping-up in orbit?

    Yes, Starship has header tanks for this very purpose. They contain the fuel and the oxygen needed to land Starship, and they are small enough that they do not slosh, so the fuel is available during the final and rapid rotation that sets it upright just before landing. The main tanks will slosh and probably would pass large bubbles into the fuel lines, so they are not useful during landing.

    The header tanks are full during launch, so they reduce, by the amount of weight of their propellants, the total payload the Starship can lift to orbit, but this is more economical than refueling via a second rocket launch.

    Another topic of interest is the capability for “backhaul” (as I believe truckers phrase it), bringing payload back during the return trip. Like Dragon cargo ships, the cost of delivery to orbit is offset a bit by the value of bringing back hardware or manufactured goods from space. If a different customer returns things from space, he can do so relatively inexpensively, and his payments can offset some of the price for taking things to orbit. Both customers benefit, and more overall business can be completed for the same price.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Here’s an idea: a fleet of F9s modified to carry… Dream-chasers! Maybe no fairings, just fly with the wings permanently deployed if possible… might be some adjustments to ascent profile required!

    Reduces the infrastructure and hassle of Chopsticks, and water landings gotta go!! The idea of delivering astronauts and cargo back to any jetport close to a launch site is very appealing.

    Is Elon rummaging in his pockets for loose change as we speak?!

  • Ray Van Dune

    Ps. “Reduces the infrastructure and hassle of Chopsticks, and water landings gotta go!!”

    Clarification on chopsticks: they may be a great idea for Starship, but I am just saying that this reduced their overall use of such a high-cost system, as the Dream-chaser or Dragon would not use them.

    Clarification on water landings: the first time we tragically drown a perfectly healthy crew, everyone will say “Whose idea was THAT?!” I’m just saying early. If the Russians and Boeing can land a capsule on the ground, anybody can.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Mr Z, you mention possible arrival of Starliner on the scene. I was thinking Dreamchaser. While Boeing has a lead here, Sierra Space is catching up.

    Ray, manned Dreamchaser will not launch with a fairing. Got that from Angry Astronaut’s interview at Sierra space. They do not want a fairing to.interfere with abort/launch escape sequence. And it just makes good sense.

    Also, and this gets noted from time to time, Starship has no launch escape system. Will NASA buy into that again, as they did with STS? There are many opinions surrounding this topic.

  • sippin_bourbon: A manned Dream Chaser won’t happen until the cargo version flies a number of times, and that appears to keep receding into the future. It has been delayed repeatedly, and supposedly is supposed to fly the first time this year. I have heard nothing, which makes me suspect it will be delayed again.

  • Jeff Wright

    Now, I might assemble a roomy, dedicated Mars cycler with SH…and use Falcon Heavy launched Dragons as taxis-so you can still do a modest Mars mission even if a true Starship is delayed. The cycler need not land or have tiles-thus an easier build.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Jeff, I was thinking the same for a Lunar Cycler.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Mr Z.

    First Dreamchaser cargo to fly to ISS has slipped to Q1 2023.
    Announced 3 days ago via twitter.

    I assume that means they still plan on an orbital test flight this year.

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