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SpaceX Makes History As First Company to Dock a Spacecraft At ISS

  1. May 25, 2012 #1
    I have been following this for the last few days, they launched the Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule on Tuesday, then Thursday had to perform a series of tests to make sure the Dragon spacecraft was working fine, now they are docking. They had to perform multiple tests on it to make sure everything was working okay, and as it turns out, there was apparently a flaw on the space station ITSELF which threw off the Dragon in its approach, so they had to move it back away from the ISS make some changes, and re-approach. At 9:56 AM EST, the ISS crew reached out with the space station's robotic arm and grabbed the capsule. They have now succeeded in docking it and are currently working on making usre various bolts are secure, pressurization checks, etc...they will open it up tomorrow. The Falcon 9 and Dragon are both capable of carrying humans, so this is a big deal. The Dragon right now has a load of supplies for the ISS to use.

    What's really cool is how all the naysayers said Elon Musk didn't know what he was doing and would never succeed. He has thus far proven them wrong with goal after goal met, but this is the first really big-deal mission. It really seems like he is going to seriously reduce the cost of launching satellites, cargo, and astronauts into outer space. SpaceX's rockets are re-usable, more reliable, and cheaper. This is a historic moment, as it proves the viability of commercial spacecraft. The only other entities to accomplish such spacecraft are NASA, the Russian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Japanese Space Agency. Provided all goes well, SpaceX will be able to start launching astronauts into space in a few years. A host of other companies are working on their own private spacecraft and I am sure SpaceX's success has given them all hope now as they know it's doable. SpaceX's next planned rocket is the Falcon Heavy, which provided it works fine, will be able to launch about twice the payload of the Space Shuttle for less than 1/10 the cost, something that beforehand was considered impossible. But Elon Musk has continually proven the naysayers wrong in accomplishing goal after goal, and the Falcon 9 is a major advancement in launch capabilities in terms of pricing and design, so I doubt SpaceX would make the claim unless they are positive here. The Falcon Heavy will also be able to launch more than twice the payload of the Boeing Delta IV Heavy. It basically is a larger rocket that will be made up of multiple Falcon 9 rockets. First launch of the Falcon Heavy i scheduled for late 2013 or 2014.

    As a side note, James Cameron recently made a record-breaking dive to the bottom of the Marianna Trench (in a submersible which he designed too, he also has worked at designing special camera, both for movies and space exploration), making it the fourth time any craft has successfully dived down that far. He spent three hours down there, the longest ever (the last time any person went to the Challenger Deep (deepest part) was the U.S. Navy in 1960, two men for twenty minutes). Cameron was the first solo dive and the longest manned dive. The dive was the culmination of seven years of planning and the design and construction of a special submersible (Cameron is very big on ocean exploration, hence the movies The Abyss, Titanic and also the aquatic-based world of Avatar). This dive was really big-time as well in that not only is his craft revolutionary in design as far as submersibles go, but it is also private-sector, not government. And the deep sea is harder to explore than outer space (more humans have walked on the Moon, and for far longer, than have explored the bottom of the ocean), so that was also a big deal.

    So in addition to a new era for space exploration ,we are also on the verge it seems of a new era in ocean exploration as well. NASA TV has been covering everything thus far, and tomorrow at 5:30 AM EST, they will broadcast the opening of the Dragon space capsule by the ISS crew.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2012 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I've also been following SpaceX's attempt and am glad to see it work. I think this is a necessary step toward advancing space exploration. I've also been watching the deep sea documentaries, fascinating.
  4. May 26, 2012 #3
    I watched the launch attempt on Saturday it was super exciting! Even if they did abort at the last second, they handled the problem gracefully and were ready to rock on Tuesday and I'm glad to see the mission progressing fairly smoothly. It will be really interesting to watch them complete further missions.

  5. May 26, 2012 #4
    I am so happy the launch went well! This year seems to be pretty big for space. Space x, kicking tail, plans to mine asteroids, the new rover set to reach Mars in August!
  6. May 26, 2012 #5
    I wrote my Junior Thesis on the private Space Industry, I'm super excited to see it all coming together. Assuming SpaceX can keep it up, I think we are going to be looking at drastically cheaper space access in the next decade.
  7. May 26, 2012 #6
    I want to work for SpaceX!
  8. May 27, 2012 #7
    Why is this being held up as such a historic trend setter?

    Everything else that NASA has flown was developed by a private company, using a generous amount of NASA money. Often, the contractors are also paid to operate the system. That is exactly the same business model that SpaceX continues to use.

    The only difference is that in the past if the contractor hired a 1000 engineers, NASA would hire 750 to look over their shoulders.

    The current SpaceX experience is that they have fewer government engineers to train, so that they can get the job done with a smaller staff themselves. The military space programs learned that lesson several decades ago. It has just taken a long time for NASA to catch on.
  9. May 27, 2012 #8
    No private company, on its own, has ever designed, engineered, and constructed its own rocket and spacecraft, and then launched said rocket and spacecraft into space to dock with the International Space Station. With NASA, you had the spacecraft designed by NASA, and then the different components built by a variety of different companies. But the engineering, design, and all of the research it took was done with a government budget, because at the time, no private company had the financial resources to be able to do such a thing on its own, because the sheer amounts of research and development that were needed were astronomical. The modern world as we know it literally is a direct result of the innovations from the space program. The modern computer, the Internet, GPS, various materials, precision manufacturing methods, medical technologies and developments, and a whole slew of things too numerous to name here (just think of the enormous impact alone of the modern computer on society), are all a result of the space program. No private company at the time would have had the capability to pull off on its own what NASA did.

    In more recent years, some other private ventures have tried to do this and not succeeded. Andrew Beal, for example (wealthy banker, net worth in the billions), had started a private space venture and tried to build a spacecraft, but shut it down in the late 1990s.

    If it was an easy task to accomplish, other companies would have done it already and there wouldn't have been so many critics of SpaceX and private space entrepreneurship in general. A lot of other countries would have done it already even. China has yet, as a nation, to accomplish such a thing. It has been a major question as to whether or not private companies, and in particular private startup ventures like SpaceX, would ever really be capable of doing such a thing. On the one hand, some said that commercializing space is like commercializing aircraft, and that modern space entrepreneurial companies are like the early aircraft companies. On the other hand, building a spacecraft that can safely carry humans and then being able to launch it into outer space, are all one heck of a lot more complex of an operation then what the early airplane pioneers did.

    Even commercial aircraft are almost always designed and built by large companies. For example, no one starts a company and says they are going to take on Gulfstream or Boeing. So startup companies launching and building viable spacecraft was (and still is by many) viewed skeptically. The other major thing here is for a startup to not only build viable spacecraft and rockets, but to build rockets that are cheaper and more reliable, which is what SpaceX is doing. Their Falcon Heavy rocket design has literally shocked the industry in what it will be able to do if it can really do it, as many have for years said such a rocket isn't possible. Many for years have said Musk doesn't know what he's doing, but he has consistently met goal after goal, so I think he does.

    SpaceX has met an important milestone in showing that private companies can build viable rockets and spacecraft that can dock with the ISS. When their Falcon Heavy lifts off, and shows that a startup company designed and built a rocket that for many years others said was impossible in terms of how it will have significantly lowered launch costs, but increased reliability and be twice as capable as the Shuttle or the current most powerful rocket, the Boeing Delta IV Heavy, they will have really met some major milestones. If I was SpaceX, I'd be very cautious regarding sabotage from the large corporations that benefit big-time from the status-quo. The history of entrepreneurship is litered with stories of large companies trying to sabotage smaller startups that bring real competition to them. For example, when Richard Branson started Virgin Airlines, everyone laughed at first and no one took it seriously, but then as it began to create real competition, British Airways tried various illegal methods to hurt the company.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 27, 2012
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