Tag Archives: SpaceX

Update on SpaceX and Boeing’s private commercial crew capsules

Link here. The key piece of news is that both companies now believe they meet NASA’s safety requirements.

[D]uring a panel discussion at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space Forum here Sept. 18, executives of the two companies said they now believed their vehicles met that and related safety requirements.

John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for the commercial crew program at Boeing, said the company was assessing three separate requirements, including the overall loss of crew as well as ascent and entry risks and loss of mission. “Our teams have been working that for a number of years,” he said, noting those analyses have driven changes to the vehicle design, such as increased micrometeoroid and orbital debris protection. “Where we are now is that our analysis shows we can exceed the NASA requirements for all three of those criteria,” he said.

Benjamin Reed, director of commercial crew mission management at SpaceX, said his company was in a similar situation. “We’re looking right now to be meeting the requirements,” he said.

Kathy Lueders, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, didn’t confirm that the companies have, in fact, met those safety requirements. “We’re learning from a NASA perspective about how to understand the assessments that we’re getting from each of the contractors and how to apply it,” she said. “We at the NASA team are assessing the modeling that each of the providers has done.”

It should be understood that the requirements being discussed here really have nothing to do with actual engineering, but are based on a statistical analysis that estimates the risk to any passenger. In other words, it is a pure guess, and can be manipulated any way anyone wants. This is why NASA’s manager above is so vague. What she is really saying is that NASA is slowly being forced to accept the analysis of the contractors.

The article at the link also details the present schedule, which appears mostly unchanged (though Musk indicated there might be a slight delay in Dragon during his BFR presentation earlier this week), and the efforts by both companies to make their capsules reusable.

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SpaceX’s first BFR passenger is Yusaku Maezawa, owner of Japanese fashion company

Yusaku Maezawa

Capitalsm in space: SpaceX’s first BFR passenger will be Yusaku Maezawa, the owner of Japanese fashion company, shown on the right.

Maezawa began his statement by echoing John Kennedy with these words, “I choose to go to the Moon.” He purchased the entire first flight, and will invite six to eight artists to join him on the flight and ask them to create art afterward inspired by the flight. They are aiming for a launch in 2023.

BFR

Musk began the presentation tonight with an overview of the status of BFR, noting that they plan unmanned test launches before putting humans on the rocket. The image an the right shows the habitable upper stage.

During the question and answer session after the announcement Musk was asked questions about the present stage of BFR design, and whether it has been finalized. He said they plan “a lot of test flights” and are aiming for first orbital flights in 2 to 3 years, “if things go really well.”

Musk made it clear that Maezawa chose SpaceX for the flight, rather than the other way around. Musk also said that Maezawa was paying them a lot of money for the flight, though they were not going to reveal the amount. Musk did note that the price was not trivial, and that Maezawa has already made a significant deposit. Maezawa had first approached them for a Dragon/Falcon Heavy flight, but because of the limitations of of those spacecraft, they decided it better to go with the bigger rocket.

Musk noted that the first test hops of the upper stage to test its landing capabilities will take place at Boca Chica in Texas. The launch site for the orbital missions is not yet decided.

Musk estimated that the cost for developing BFR is going to probably be around $5 billion, which he also noted rightly is quite small for this kind of project. He also said that right now they are only devoting 5% of SpaceX’s resources to this mission. As they complete the crew Dragon project, they will then begin to shift resources to BFR. He estimated that will happen sometime late next year.

Overall, it strikes me that they really do not have all the details yet worked out, with the rocket or their flight schedule. As Musk openly admitted when asked if they are sure about the schedule, “We are definitely not sure.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, since it is often better to keep an open-mind in planning something this ambitious. At the same time it tells us not to expect any of this to happen, as described.

One final point: Musk at one point said he wants a base on the Moon. “It’s 2018, why don’t we have a base on the Moon?” To me, this was an almost direct dig at NASA’s Gateway/FLOP-G project, which isn’t a base but locks us in lunar orbit. Musk was being very careful to avoid criticizing NASA, his biggest customer, but anyone who knows what is going on will quickly recognize that BFR is in direct competition with SLS/Orion/Gateway.

Based on SpaceX’s history, going from first orbit flight to flying the world’s largest rocket in only ten years, I am very confident that this company could get that first base on the Moon, long before NASA even gets Gateway launched.

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SpaceX announcement of first passenger for Lunar BFR

Capitalism in space: SpaceX will have a webcast today at 6 pm (Pacific) to announce the name of the first passenger to fly on a lunar mission using their Big Falcon Rocket (BFR).

The embed of that webcast is below, so if you wish you can watch right here.

Note that my initial post mistaken said this was happening at 6 pm Eastern time. That was an error.

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SpaceX to name on Monday its first customer for BFR flight around Moon

Capitalism in space: In a tweet SpaceX announced that it will name on Monday its first customer for flight around Moon, using its Big Falcon Rocket rather than the Falcon Heavy as previously announced.

There will be a lot of speculation over the next few days, but we must remember that the BFR is years away from launch, so nothing here is either set in concrete, nor even likely to happen.

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SpaceX successfully launches communications satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully launched a communications satellite as well as recovered the Falcon 9 first stage.

The biggest news here is how routine the landings of the first stage have become, getting its first mention eight paragraphs into the article above, with its landing described almost as an aside. This was a new Block 5 first stage, and it will likely fly again within a relatively short period of time.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

24 China
16 SpaceX
8 Russia
6 ULA
5 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. in the national rankings, 24 to 23.

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SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket and the colonization of Mars

Link here. Lots of details about what SpaceX wants to do, as well as the company’s request for help in areas it is weak.

Below the fold is the youtube video from the Mars Society conference last week which forms the basis of the article at the link.

I only have one comment at this time: I worry that SpaceX is developing a rocket, the BFR, that has no marketable value, at this time. They succeeded with the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy because they could market them and make money from them. The commercial space industry needed these rockets that could fly at lower cost, and that has paved the way for SpaceX’s success.

There are real questions whether a similar market exists for BFR. To paraphrase a line from the movie Field of Dreams, it is possible that if they build it the customers will come, but few businesses succeed with that market strategy.
» Read more

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Launch schedule shuffles for SpaceX

Link here. A combination of payload issues, scheduling conflicts, and rocket refurbishment demands has forced SpaceX to shuffle and delay many of its remaining launches scheduled for the rest of 2018.

The biggest conflict appears to be between the first manned Dragon test flight, and the second Falcon Heavy flight, both of which are now listed for a November launch. Since both will use the same launchpad, there must be some space between them.

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Dragon/Starliner schedules firming up

At a meeting at NASA this week a status update of SpaceX’s manned Dragon and Boeing’s manned Starliner capsules indicated that their proposed flight schedules, with the first manned flights occurring next year, are increasingly firm.

Overall, the updates were quite positive with most of the flight hardware nearing completion. The two companies must each execute two test flights to the International Space Station (ISS) in order to be certified to perform operational crew rotation missions.

On the SpaceX side, the company will first execute an uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft called Demonstration Mission 1 (DM-1) – currently scheduled for this coming November. It will then be followed by a crewed test flight designated Demonstration Mission 2 (DM-2). In between the two missions, SpaceX will also execute an in-flight abort test.

In terms of Boeing, they will perform an uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) with the CST-100 Starliner followed by a Crewed Flight Test (CFT). A pad abort test will be also conducted between the two missions.

While Boeing’s schedule for these flights is somewhat uncertain as they investigate the recent failure of several valves to close during an engine test, SpaceX’s schedule has become very solid. Assuming nothing goes wrong on the unmanned test flight in November and the in-flight abort test, they will fly humans in April, 2019.

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NASA officially approves SpaceX’s fueling system

Surprise, surprise! NASA on August 17 officially approved SpaceX’s fueling system where the astronauts would enter the Dragon capsule before the Falcon 9 rocket would fueled.

In a statement published late Aug. 17, the agency said that it was allowing SpaceX to move ahead with plans to use what’s colloquially known as “load-and-go,” where the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is filled with liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants after astronauts board the Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of the rocket.

“To make this decision, our teams conducted an extensive review of the SpaceX ground operations, launch vehicle design, escape systems and operational history,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, said in the statement. “Safety for our personnel was the driver for this analysis, and the team’s assessment was that this plan presents the least risk.”

Blah, blah, blah. They had made it clear they were going to approve SpaceX’s fueling approach last week. NASA safety bureaucrats have been whining about SpaceX’s fueling approach for more than a year and a half, for no logical reason, and for what I surmised were purely political reasons having zero to do with safety. At times I have stated that when SpaceX was getting close to actually flying, NASA would back down. And I also expected SpaceX to push its launch dates to force NASA to back down, in contrast to the old-time big space contractors who routinely would kowtow to NASA in these matters and allow its bureaucracy to push them around.

These events are more evidence that the April 2019 manned Dragon launch is on schedule.

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SpaceX unveils access arm jetway astronauts will use to board Dragon

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has begun installing its airport-jetway-like access arm that astronauts will use to board Dragon at Launchpad 39A in anticipation of the first manned flight in April 2019.

They were originally going to install the jetway after the first unmanned demo flight, which they hoped to fly this month. That plan has now changed.

Prior to the visual milestone this week of the Crew Access Arm, or CAA, being moved to the pad surface and the base of the Fixed Service Structure (launch tower), previous information from SpaceX and NASA indicated that the arm would be installed after the Dragon’s uncrewed demo flight.

However, that schedule was based around a launch of the uncrewed Dragon flight, DM-1, in August 2018.

With NASA announcing a 3-month slip to the DM-1 flight (largely due to ISS scheduling and crew reduction aboard the International Space Station in the coming months), SpaceX found itself with an unanticipated delay to the DM-1 flight – which in turn opened up a possibility that didn’t exist before to install the CAA in August.

…But now that DM-1 is NET (No Earlier Than) November – a date Gwynne Shotwell is confident the company will meet, SpaceX is forging ahead with CAA installation because, quite simply, there is no reason to wait, at this point, to install the arm after DM-1.

Making the crew access arm resemble an airport jetway is a fine example of the pizazz that helps sell SpaceX. It also helps make space operations appear more like an ordinary transportation option, something that is necessary if the human race is ever going to become truly spacefaring.

Hat tip to reader Kirk.

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Will SpaceX bail out Tesla?

Link here. There appears to an effort on Wall Street to convince SpaceX to use its significant profits to bail out failing Tesla. It is also unclear whether Musk agrees with this approach.

If SpaceX does this, it will be a very bad thing for the company’s future, throwing good money after bad. Musk might love both companies and what they are trying to accomplish, but the future of the two companies appears to be heading in opposite directions. To weigh SpaceX down with an unprofitable company that has a failing product would seriously harm SpaceX’s abilities in the future.

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SpaceX unveils interior of manned Dragon

Capitalism in space: Earlier this week SpaceX unveiled the interior of its Dragon capsule, along with the suits and other details, to reporters in California.

The article at the link has some good videos showing the capsule interior as well as its touchscreen control panel. It also includes quotes from SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell repeating their intention to launch the manned mission by April 2019.

“Whenever we talk about dates we’re always confident and then something crops up,” Shotwell said. “Predicting launch dates can make a liar out of the best of us. I hope I am not proven to be a liar on this one. We are targeting November for Demo 1 and April for Demo 2.”

“I would love to say that this mission is going to be like every other mission, because I want every rocket and every capsule to be reliable, but I can tell you there will be about 7000 extra sets of eyes on the build of this system, the testing of this system and all the interfaces,” Shotwell added.

I would not be surprised if there was a few months slip in that schedule. I will be surprised if it slips more than that.

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The two things SpaceX must do for NASA to okay the first manned Dragon mission

Link here.

First, they must successfully recover the Dragon capsule from the first unmanned test flight in November so that they can use it in a launch abort test to follow.

Second, they must demonstrate seven successful flights of the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Right now it appears that, though the schedule is very very tight, it is possible that SpaceX will be able to accomplish these tasks in time to do its manned flight in April 2019, as presently scheduled. At the moment SpaceX’s launch schedule calls for 11 Falcon 9 launches between now and April. Getting seven Block 5 launches should therefore be likely, though not certain, since some of those launches will probably not use the final full Block 5 configuration.

I notice that the article makes no mention of the massive paperwork that the GAO says must be done before a manned flight. No surprise. In the end the paperwork will not delay this mission, despite what the GAO and NASA’s bureaucracy says.

UPDATE: NASA has now withdrawn its objections to SpaceX’s fueling plans. This is also no surprise, as their objections to fueling the rocket while astronauts were on board were always bogus. The risks are essentially the same whether you fuel before boarding or after. Either way, there is a lot of very explosive fuel present. To say NASA’s way, fueling first, is the only way never made sense.

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The history of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket

Link here. This is a ten part very detailed history, and includes a great deal of background into the history of SpaceX as well. Very much worth reading.

In the end, I remain skeptical that this rocket will end up being built as SpaceX presently envisions it. I also believe however that out of this engineering research will come a new rocket that is nonetheless revolutionary.

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SpaceX launches commercial satellite with first used Block 5 first stage

Capitalism in space: Last night SpaceX successfully placed a commercial communications satellite into orbit using a previously flown Block 5 first stage.

The turnaround for this first stage was only a little over two months. It successfully landed on the drone ship in the Atlantic, and they plan to fly it a third time later this year. You can watch the launch here.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

22 China
15 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 ULA
4 Japan
4 Europe

China still leads the U.S. 22 to 21 in the national rankings.

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NASA announces crews for first commercial manned launches

NASA has announced the crews for the first commercial manned launches.

Boeing’s crew flight test aboard its Starliner spacecraft, which is targeted to launch in mid-2019, will have Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson and Nicole Mann on board. Boeing’s first post-certification mission will have Josh Cassada and Suni Williams aboard.

SpaceX’s demo mission 2 aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is targeted to launch in April 2019, will have Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard. The first post-certification mission will be crewed by Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins.

These crews cover the first two manned missions for each spacecraft.

Hat tip Kirk Hilliard.

More information here.

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New launch dates for commercial crew posted by NASA

NASA has now released an updated schedule for the first test flights of Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Dragon manned capsules:

In chronological order:

SpaceX Demo-1 (uncrewed): November 2018
Boeing Orbital Flight Test (uncrewed): late 2018 / early 2019
SpaceX Demo-2 (crewed): April 2019
Boeing Crew Flight Test (crewed): mid-2019

Note once again that this schedule bears no resemblance to the pessimistic schedule put forth by the GAO. That schedule indicated that significant delays could be expected because of NASA’s heavy paperwork requirements.

I fully expect that political needs will force that paperwork to be done much faster than the GAO, or NASA, expects, or even wants. And the increased speed will have little to do with reducing safety.

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NASA safety panel reviews commercial crew, tries to justify its paperwork demands

Link here. The article describes the results from the quarterly meeting of NASA’s safety panel, which occurred last week, including its concerns about the recent test problems during a launch abort test of Boeing’s Starliner capsule. It also describes the panel’s general satisfaction at the status of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

The article however ends with a long screed by one panel member, explaining that the heavy paperwork requirements they are imposing on the two companies is not really paperwork.

“It needs to be noted by everyone, and we’re especially interested in making sure that all of the external stakeholders realize this, that while the concluding process of certification has sometimes been described as a paper process, that is really just a shorthand clarification and in reality it could not be further from the truth,” noted Dr. McErlean.

In reality, the process is as follows. “In a certified design, the design agent – the contractor or partner in this case – performs the design and in the certification plan, the design agent and the certification agency (NASA) agree on the submittal of certification evidence.

“This could be measurements, it can be test data, it can be analysis, but it almost always involves the submittal of detailed technical data, not simply paper descriptions or forms. Sometimes it involves witness testing and sometimes it involves physical inspection. But it almost always wraps around important technical submittals.

Can I translate? The safety panel requires a lot of testing so that a lot of paperwork can be filled out. And while much of this testing is likely to help make the capsule’s safer, most of it seems to me to be make-work, and designed to justify the existence of NASA and its safety panel.

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Watch SpaceX retract one leg from used Block 5 booster

For geeks only! The video below the fold shows the new equipment that SpaceX has developed to retract the open legs of a used Block 5 booster. This video shows them attaching the booster in a secure vertical position, then attaching cables to the base of the first leg which are then used to retract it back into its launch position against the side of the booster. The design is quite clever.

The design also shows how primitive the art of reusable rockets remains. Though SpaceX has clearly succeeded in simplifying and automating this process, it remains slow and complex. In time this will get easier, but right now, this remains state of the art.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace.
» Read more

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First Block 5 1st stage reflight

Capitalism in space: It appears that SpaceX is planning to do its first reflight of a used Block 5 booster on August 4.

This will be SpaceX’s third Falcon 9 Block 5 launch in less than two weeks if the schedule holds. More important than the schedule, perhaps, is the fact that it would appear that SpaceX intends to reuse the first Block 5 booster (B1046) for this particular launch. To lay out the foundation of this claim, it’s known that SpaceX’s CCAFS Pad 40 integration facilities are only capable of fitting one booster and the strongback (transporter/erector/launcher, TEL) at a time, evidenced both by sourced comments and views inside the hangar.

Meanwhile, an unmistakeable Block 5 booster – with black interstage and octaweb coverings – was spotted being transported through Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) earlier this week, just after Falcon 9 B1047 launched (July 21 EDT) and freed up space for another booster inside the horizontal integration facility (HIF) at Pad 40. Given that only one Block 5 booster has been recovered on the East Coast and that B1047 was still out at sea earlier this week, the sooty booster traveling through CCAFS thus has to have been B1046, and it was making a beeline for LC-40.

SpaceX is once again demonstrating why they have taken over the global launch industry. They are proving that they will be able to routinely reuse a relatively small number of first stage boosters, frequently, and cheaply.

CORRECTION: I initially wrote this post under the mistaken impression that the booster being reflown was going to do so after only fourteen days. This was wrong. The booster was flown two months ago, in May.

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Changes to big August 3 commercial crew announcement do not bode well

On August 3 NASA is planning on making a big announcement concerning its commercial crew program. Yesterday the agency revealed that the NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, will reveal the names of the crew for the first commercial crew flight.

The changes in how that announcement will be made however suggest that they had hoped to make a bigger announcement and have been forced to back off. Initially, vice president Mike Pence was to have made the announcement. He has now canceled his participation. Also, there had previously been rumors that the announcement would have included the launch dates for both SpaceX’s and Boeing’s first flights. That the new press release makes no mention of dates suggests the dates have been delayed.

I hope I am wrong.

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SpaceX and Arianespace both launch multiple satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX and Arianespace both had successful early morning commercial launches today.

The Ariane 5 delivered 4 Galileo GPS satellites, while SpaceX placed in orbit 10 Iridium communications satellites. SpaceX also successfully recovered the first stage.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

20 China
14 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 ULA
4 Japan
4 Arianespace

In the national rankings, the U.S. and China are once again tied, now at 20-20.

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SpaceX successfully launches commercial communications satellite

Capitalism in space: SpaceX last night successfully launched Telstar 19v, a commercial communications satellite.

This was the second Block 5 rocket to fly successfully.

Correction: Previously I had said that these two flights served to satisfy NASA’s demands for seven successful Block 5 launches before they would certify it for commercial crew. It turns out that neither accomplishes this, because the tanks within are not the finalized versions. Thank you readers!

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

20 China
13 SpaceX
8 Russia
5 ULA
4 Japan

In the national standings China is now only one launch ahead of the U.S., 20-19.

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A detailed look at upcoming SpaceX launch recovery operations

Link here. They are expanding their drone fleet and their capsule recovery fleet. Though we should expect some big developments in the coming year, there was also this tidbit:

Earlier this year, the company’s president Gwynne Shotwell told CNBC that next year will see a decrease in the company’s launch cadence. The slip is due to a decline in the number of large geostationary communications satellites needing a launch.

Missions to a geostationary transfer orbit make up the majority of launches requiring a droneship recovery. Therefore, it is unlikely that two east coast droneships will be needed to support Falcon 9 over the next year or two.

It appears that after five years of effort, SpaceX has finally begun to clean out its backlog of contracted launches, caused by the initial development delays of the Falcon 9 and its two failures.

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On the radio

Tonight I will have two radio appearances. First my normal twenty minute John Batchelor Show appearance will be structured somewhat differently. Instead of reviewing the space news for the past few days, we will be focused entirely on reviewing NASA’s seeming effort to slow commercial space down, so as to reduce the embarrassment to SLS as well as benefit Boeing.

The idea will be that we will make believe that I am giving a briefing to Mike Pence and the National Space Council, explaining in detail why NASA actually seems hostile to getting anything done. It is our hope that maybe someone in the administration might hear it, and rethink the Trump space policy.

Then, beginning at 7 pm (Pacific), I will be doing another live two hour appearance on The Space Show with David Livingston. I am sure the same subject will come up, along with other things. Feel free to call in to ask questions. David does not screen his calls, so this is your opportunity to ask me anything.

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SpaceX’s first test crew Dragon capsule arrives in Florida

Capitalism in space: The first man-rated Dragon capsule set to fly has arrived in Florida to be prepped for launch.

Even though the vehicle is called a “Crew Dragon,” this Dragon won’t carry crew on its first flight. Instead, it’s due to make an uncrewed practice run to the space station during what’s known as Demonstration Mission 1, or DM-1.

Before this week’s shipment to Florida, the Dragon underwent thermal vacuum tests as well as acoustic tests at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio. Today SpaceX showed off a picture of the Crew Dragon, which is a redesigned, beefed-up version of its robotic cargo-carrying Dragon, via Twitter and Instagram.

NASA’s current schedule calls for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket to launch the DM-1 mission next month from Kennedy Space Center. However, that schedule is dependent not only on the pace of preparations, but also on the timetable for station arrivals and departures.

SpaceX is clearly on schedule to fly the first unmanned test flight in September, and the first manned flight in January 2019. And once that manned flight take place, I can see no reason why operational flights shouldn’t follow soon thereafter.

Yet, NASA said earlier this week that those operational flights will almost certainly be delayed until 2020, mainly because SpaceX might not be able to get the paperwork filled out fast enough.

Here’s my prediction: If SpaceX flies that manned mission in early 2019, expect their operational flights to begin soon thereafter, not in 2020. NASA will have no choice but to accept the capsule and begin flights.

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SpaceX delivers huge supply tank to Boca Chica spaceport site

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday delivered a huge oxygen supply tank to its future Boca Chica spaceport site, now aimed as the main initial test site for its Big Falcon Rocket.

“Delivery of a new liquid oxygen tank, which will be used to support propellant-loading operations during launch and vehicle tests, represents the latest major piece of launch hardware to arrive at the site for installation,” he said.

In February, SpaceX CEO and lead designer Elon Musk said brief “hopper flights” of the company’s Big Falcon Rocket spacecraft component probably will take place at Boca Chica, possibly next year.

SpaceX is focusing on the development of the BFR to get the first humans to Mars, Musk’s ultimate goal, though it had originally planned to develop the smaller Falcon Heavy rockets for the purpose. The BFR rocket/spacecraft system will be built at a SpaceX facility at the Port of Los Angeles. Fully assembled, it is expected to stand 340 feet tall, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Do not put much faith in the predicted dates above. I am confident that we will not see a test flight of BFR for at least three, if not five years. I think it will happen, but not as quickly as Musk and SpaceX likes to predict.

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GAO report indicates NASA forcing more delays in commercial crew

A Government Accountability Office report released today suggests that NASA’s complex certification requirements will cause further delays in first operational missions of the commercial crew capsules of Boeing and SpaceX.

The report shows when NASA believes Boeing and SpaceX will each have completed a single non-crewed test flight, a test flight with crew, and then undergo a certification process to become ready for operational flights. This is known as the “certification milestone.”

Based on NASA’s “schedule risk analysis” from April, the agency estimates that Boeing will reach this milestone sometime between May 1, 2019, and August 30, 2020. For SpaceX, the estimated range is August 1, 2019, and November 30, 2020. The analysis’ average certification date was December, 2019, for Boeing and January, 2020, for SpaceX.

These are obviously razor-thin margins, but the new report also indicates that Boeing is ahead in submitting paperwork needed for approval of its various flight systems and processes. This is consistent with what independent sources have told Ars, that Boeing is more familiar with NASA and better positioned to comply with its complex certification processes. [emphasis mine]

This does not surprise me. From the beginning of commercial crew there have been people at NASA working to slow SpaceX down so as to not embarrass Boeing as well as SLS/Orion. By using the “complex certification process,” which really has little to do with engineering and everything to do with bureaucracy and power politics, NASA has effectively succeeded in preventing SpaceX from getting off the ground. The company could have flown a manned Dragon at least a year ago, if NASA had not stood in the way and imposed numerous safety demands, some of which make no sense.

Meanwhile, NASA’s bureaucracy and certification process has created a situation where neither company might be ready to fly when the ticketed flights on Russian Soyuz capsules end. To solve this gap the agency is actually thinking of stretching out ISS missions so it doesn’t have to fly ferry missions as much. While longer missions to ISS make sense — if your goal is to learn how to get to Mars — this isn’t why NASA is thinking of doing it. Instead, it is doing it so that it can make private space, especially SpaceX, look bad.

All in all, NASA’s management seems entirely uninterested in real space exploration, and the risks it entails. Instead, they are focused on power politics and serving the needs of the big space contractors that they have worked with for decades, accomplishing little while spending a lot of taxpayer dollars.

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SpaceX installs much larger arms for net on ship for fairing recapture

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has completed the installation of much larger arms for the net that will be used to try catching rocket fairings.

While it’s difficult to estimate from photos alone, it appears that Mr Steven’s new arms are minimum of roughly 65 meters squared, assuming a square aspect ratio. In other words, the vessel’s next and newest net could have an area as large as 3600 square meters (~40,000 square feet, ~0.85 acres), easily more than quadruple the size of Mr Steven’s previous net. For comparison, the massive autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) SpaceX often recovers its Falcon 9 and Heavy boosters aboard have a usable landing area of roughly 45,000 square feet, a little more than 10% larger than Mr Steven’s new net.

With these vast new arms, struts, and (soon enough) net, SpaceX is likely as close as they have ever been to successfully catching a Falcon 9 fairing, an achievement that would likely allow the company to begin reusing the large carbon fiber-composite shrouds almost immediately. Critically, although SpaceX appears to have begun attaching recovery hardware to both fairing halves in recent West Coast attempts, it remains to be seen whether Mr Steven’s new claw apparatus will be able to catch both halves, thus closing the gap on fairing recovery without necessitating the leasing and modification of perhaps three additional copies of the vessel.

This new net setup is big. We shall see if it works during an Iridium launch later this month.

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