Space

SpaceX Unveils Faster, Cheaper, Better Manned Dragon Capsule

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Last night SpaceX, the private spaceflight company founded by PayPal and Tesla's Elon Musk, unveiled its new Dragon capsule. A previous version of this capsule is already zipping back and forth between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS) delivering cargo and supplies—there have been three successful missions since 2012. The Dragon V2 is outfitted with seven seats and the other bells and whistles necessary for manned flight.

The interior is pretty slick and the touchscreen controls look downright modern!

Dragon
SpaceX

SpaceX says it will start test flights in 2016. Which is just in the nick of time: The U.S. currently has a deal with Russia to use their Soyuz rockets to get American astronauts up to the ISS through 2017. But right now the Russians are the only game in town and at $76 million a pop, they're not exactly offering bargain airfare. What's more, testy relations between the Yanks and the Sputniks puts even that expensive, tenuous link to humanity's outpost in low Earth orbit in jeopardy. 

In addition to looking pretty awesome, the Dragon V2 and its Falcon rockets are designed to be maximally reusable. The new Dragon capsule has thrusters to help with a soft landing (rather than the usual parachutes) and the early stages of the rocket will also be retrievable and reusable thanks to collapsible metallic legs. That makes turnaround time much shorter and saves cash. In other words: The private alternative for getting Americans (and perhaps anyone else who wants to buy a ticket) into low Earth orbit looks like it's going be faster, cheaper, better. 

Read lots more about the private spaceflight scene in our special space issue

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  1. SpaceX Unveils Faster, Cheaper, Better Manned Dragon Capsule

    Ok, but only the government can build ROADZ!

    1. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

    2. Ok, but only the government can build ROADZ!

      …and corporate welfare spaceports.

    3. The SKYZ are ROADZ for airplanes and space craft!

      Thank the Government for SKYZ!

  2. I see someone who needs a bit of regulatin!

    1. You have no idea how much the space industry is already regulated.

      Ever heard of ITAR?

  3. But how is it at Muslim outreach?

    1. And climate change?

  4. h/t to sarcasmic.

    Haaaaaaaaaaaa ha ha ha ha! Yeah right.

  5. Has touch screen control really advanced to the point that we want to rely on it for flying air/spacecraft? The stakes are a little higher than in a game of 2048…

    1. Yeah, cause searching for the right switch in a critical situation among a series of 100 nearly identical switches is so much better.

      1. That’s why people train.

        1. So training to a more difficult layout is better than training to an easier one, right?

          1. It is the reliability and responsiveness of the touchscreen I worry about. Training to use a simpler interface is worthless if that interface freezes up and needs to be rebooted.

            I mean, maybe the touchscreens they are using are actually more reliable than buttons and switches. If so, great. I’ve just never used a touchscreen interface that I would want to rely on in a life or death situation.

          2. Have you ever tried to, accurately, hit an icon on a screen with a gloved hand, while travelling at Mach 10, while being shaken to bits?

            Mechanical switches, please.

            1. Have you? And if so, where do you work and are they hiring?

              1. I’m not allowed to say. Top secret stuff, you know.

            2. If the icons are the same size as the mechanical buttons, what’s the diff?

              And being a programmable touch screen, they can make the icons much bigger and easier to read and touch, to drill down a few steps.

              If you replace one hundred mechanical buttons with a touchscreen showing only four huge icons, you can drill down in 3 (64) or four (256) steps. Those steps would be far easier in a rockin and shakin capsule than trying to hit one of 100 small buttons precisely.

              And I bet that touch screen if far more mechanically and electrically reliable than 100 separate mechanical buttons with all those hundreds of attached wires.

              1. Analog switches don’t crash and need to be rebooted, nor to the dedicated digitization/debounce circuitry. It’s just that simple.

                You’re completely right about all the other things. But do also consider that if the touch screen breaks then you effectively lose all the virtual switches.

                So, yeah, it’s a tradeoff between weight and space (!) versus redundancy and reliability.

                Also, also switches different than buttons. Apollo-era spacecraft used big mechanical toggles, many of which had safety covers to prevent accidental switch activation.

        2. I’ll take mechanical switches – and therefore control/access of the physical junctions – over a touchpad for most controls, including in much simpler systems like automobiles.

          I work in mobile platforms, wallow in the intricacies of computers all day, I love computers. But as a society we are stuffing computers into places where adding a computer does not necessarily improve things; and the best example of that excess is modern aerospace.

          1. Increasingly, though, the mechanical switches don’t switch power so much as just signal a microcontroller. First generation PCs the power switch actually switched the line current to the power supply on or off. Thus, options such as sleep had to be accomplished by the software or by secondary controls.

            On current generation PCs the “power” switch just signals the microcontroller to turn on the power supply.

    2. I’ll bet this thing practically flies itself and the screens are just there to make the human pilot look busy.

      1. If that’s the case, I hope they have a YouPorn app installed.

      2. This!

        The astronauts are cargo on these flights, not pilots.

        1. Depends on the “astronaut” some are mission specialists, ie scientists, who are not required to be pilots. The actual astronauts are primarily pilots, thouch may have other mission duties.

    3. All the emergency switches are physical buttons in the center, including the “PARACHUTES!” button. The thing mostly flies itself as well.

  6. OMG SPACEX IS KILLING OUR JERBZ BY AUTOMATING SPACE TRAVEL!

  7. I don’t understand why they are waiting so long to let SpaceX take astronauts to the ISS. I’m glad 2016 is now on the calendar as “goal” but SpaceX has been sending the non-manned capsule to the ISS successfully for two years now.

    http://safeisnotanoption.com/

    1. I don’t understand why they are waiting so long to let SpaceX take astronauts to the ISS.

      Because space exploration is still under control of the federal government, and the federal government consists of nothing but pussies.

      1. That’s what’s so crazy ridiculous about the “safety” argument. The Federal Government currently does not own a capsule that could get astronauts to and fro the ISS. As noted, we rely on the Soyuz, which from a safety standpoint is exponentially more dangerous than anything the US ever put in to space in the last four decades.

        Of course, I’m asking for logical outcomes from the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

        HA ha. Ho ho.

        1. Actually, the last time anyone died in a Soyuz was 1971. NASA has lost two shuttles since then. The Soyuz and its launch vehicle have been very reliable.

          Sources

          1. Whilst true that there have been no deaths since 1971, the launch vehicle and the Soyuz have had plenty of problems since 1971.

            “As of August 2011, a total of 745 Soyuz-U launch vehicles were launched,[3] with 21 launch failures and 724 successes (2.8% failure rate).”

            1. Yeah, but you said “capsule” in your original post, not “launch vehicle and Soyuz [capsule]”.

        2. If our current federal government would have been in control of Europe in the 1500s, no one would have discovered the new world yet. We’d still be wondering if the earth is flat, or if sea monsters will eat us.

          1. I’m guessing you know this, but the shape of the Earth was well known long before the 1500s.

            1. Yep, they just assumed there was a giant ocean between Europe and Asia.

              Columbus decided to try the trip because he fucked up his math.

          2. We’d still be wondering if the earth is flat, or if sea monsters will eat us.

            Wondering would still be blasphemy and severely punished.

      2. Because space exploration is still under control of the federal government, and the federal government consists of nothing but pussies.

        That pretty much sums it up. Otherwise we would have permanent colonies on the moon and would have made it to Mars by 1985, like we were supposed to. Instead of spending 40 years in low earth orbit. Pussies, yep.

      3. Because space exploration is still under control of the federal government, and the federal government consists of nothing but pussies.

        If political face is at stake, safety is out the window with government. Can you imagine how the safetycrats would ‘score’ something like a Mercury Atlas or Redstone? Uncle Scam had no prob strapping folks into those fireworks and lighting fuses. The current Dragon is far safer than any of those two vehicles for sure.

        1. Which was the reason Challenger was launched in sub-optimal weather conditions

          On the other hand, NASA has had a history of testing the hell out of a system before letting it go on to the next step. See why Apollo 11 was the moon landing mission and not 9 or 10.

    2. I’ve been in and out of the space industry a couple times in my career, including working on this “commercial crew” program for one of the contractors.

      They are not really “waiting”. The manned vehicle is significantly different than the unmanned one. It has many more systems that need to be designed and tested. It has additional software. It’s not a trivial effort.

  8. FUCK YOU AUTOPLAY COMMERCIALS ON REASON!

    Also, “Space: the Final Frontier?”

    Kinda don’t care, but glad there’s something here for all the gamers/nerds/cartoon lovers/and kindred.

    1. Quit complaining, Almanian!

      Those commercials are the fix for the commenting bug.

      1. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe anything fixes the commenting bug.

  9. Not sure this isn’t just one more government contractor at this point.
    Musk seems entirely too skilled at getting his paws in the taxpayers’ pockets.

    1. Well, at least he’s doing it cheaper than his predecessors.

      Not really championing for him here, but if someone’s going to take the money they’re putting on the table, I’m just a bit happier that it’s someone that’s actually doing something worth a fuck.

      1. …”if someone’s going to take the money they’re putting on the table, I’m just a bit happier that it’s someone that’s actually doing something worth a fuck.”

        I’m pretty sure that’s a big “if”; look what Tesla’s done for financing.

    2. Musk seems entirely too skilled at getting his paws in the taxpayers’ pockets.

      I find Musk to be the free-market at work generating optimal mechanisms for accessing capital. Current capital (and regulatory smoothing to actually do anything) for industries like transport (any kind of transport) and energy are mostly concentrated in the government. Hence, a critter like Musk coming along was only a matter of time. What’s funny is the tech SpaceX is based on is old-hat (dumb staged rockets with gas-gen RP engines), but Musk makes it look all sophisticated and future-y.

      Why? Because unlike other space contractors, Musk has found a way to get the government to cut him a check and then go away. The government is procuring missions from SpaceX, not vehicles. That is a huge advantage. SpaceX is an example of what a private company can do cost-wise with basically the same launch technology everybody has used for decades.

    3. With Tesla, I blame the government that hands out the goodies more than Musk for figuring out how to game the system.

      1. “With Tesla, I blame the government that hands out the goodies more than Musk for figuring out how to game the system.”

        Could be, but if and when he does it again, when do we start getting nervous about the gamer?

        1. Given that he will have cut the cost of launching a kilo to GEO from the current $8000 – $10000 down to $800 – $1000 in the process I wish we would get more people to game the system in the same way.

          At those prices midsized companies could afford their own satellites and large companies could afford space stations of their very own and things like orbital manufacture of silicone wafer crystals becomes viable which is a good thing because you can get a lot more purity in the crystal structure in a microgravity environment than you can on earth

  10. There’s a pretty profound quip in engineering circles: “Faster, better, cheaper; pick any two.”

    I worked on “commercial crew” for one of the contractors (not SpaceX). I really wish SpaceX the best. They are going after it, bending metal, making things happen. Yes, they are taking gobs of government money, but that’s still the name of the game.

    However, SpaceX is forcing some movement away from that game. They are really pushing NASA on their excessive safety-only point of view. They are very resistant to “shelf-ware”, you know, 500 page documents that NASA demands, but then sit on a shelf and no one reads.

    A big part of the expense of getting the Dragon to manned flight is the many, many wickets that NASA needs for testing, certification, and design documentation. This stuff is important, but SpaceX is helping to reduce it to things that make sense.

    1. Thanks for your perspective on this. Srsly.

  11. “The Dragon V2 is outfitted with seven seats…”

    You know who else touted a V2 rocket?

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