Friday, June 1, 2012

SpaceX's Dragon Cargo Ship Returns

"SpaceX Dragon Capsule Splashes Down in Pacific, Ending Historic Test Flight"
Clara Moskowitz, (May 31, 2012)

(SpaceX/Michael Altenhofen, via, used w/o permission)

"The world's first commercial space cargo ship dove through Earth's atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean early Thursday (May 31), ending an historic test flight to the International Space Station.

"The SpaceX Dragon capsule made a water landing off the coast of Baja California, Mexico at 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT). Recovery ships have spotted the capsule and are en route to collect the vehicle to tow to Los Angeles...."

This may have been a "test flight," but the Dragon was also hauling cargo on this run.

"...While the cargo-delivery spacecraft built by Russia, Japan and Europe are designed to burn up during re-entry, Dragon is equipped with a heat shield and parachutes to survive the fiery plunge.

"Dragon is packed with 1,367 pounds (620 kg) of crew items, used hardware and completed science experiments for its return trip. On the way up, the spacecraft delivered student-designed experiments and food, clothing and other supplies for the station's astronauts...."

I can see why some folks decided to concentrate on building one-way cargo carriers. The Dragon's heat shield and other re-entry equipment adds weight - and complexity - to the SpaceX vehicle. It's arguably faster and easier to make a one-way disposable ship.

On the other hand, how long would a commercial carrier like FedEx Express stay in business, if they flew each of their Airbuses once, and then threw it away? I think we'll be seeing more reusable spaceships, as space transport moves away from government programs, and into the hands of folks who know how to run a business.

Coming - Fairly Soon

"Splashdown for SpaceX Dragon spacecraft"
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (May 31, 2012)

"...The agency hopes the contracting out of freight duties will save it money that can then be re-invested in more daring activities beyond the station, at destinations such as asteroids and Mars.

"The commercial cargo approach will be followed later this decade by crew transport services.

"SpaceX wants this business as well, and is developing the safety and life-support equipment that would allow Dragon to double up as an astronaut taxi...."

SpaceX's Dragon will probably make a pretty good 'taxi' to Earth orbit: but the Lemming suspects that its 'parachute drop' landing technology will make it one of the less attractive alternatives.

There aren't any 'fly back' spaceships available today, now that the Space Shuttle has been retired. Not too many years from now, that could change.

Reaction Engines Limited's Skylon spaceplane is designed to use commercial airports for landing - and takeoff. It may not be long before a single vehicle will be a 'hypersonic transport' carrying taking cargo and passengers across the Pacific on one run, and fly to an orbital facility on the next.

(from Blue Origin, via, used w/o permission)

Other companies, like Blue Origin, are developing spaceships that take off and make powered vertical landings. The Lemming thinks that research and development may pay off in a few decades - or a few generations - when commercial service to the Moon and other places without a thick atmosphere comes into demand.

The Lemming is pretty sure that it's when commercial service to the Moon and beyond: not if.

The question is when, and who will be taking part. Like the Lemming said, "when it's time to build spaceships, people will build spaceships." (October 4, 2009)

People are building spaceships.

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