back to article SpaceX touts latest gear: new module, rocket demo

Private spaceflight company SpaceX is preparing to unveil the Mark II build of its Dragon capsule. In a pair of Tweets posted Friday morning, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said that May 29 would see the unveiling of the capsule that the company hopes will be the first private craft to ferry crews to the International Space Station …


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  1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    Watch it while listening to the Thunderbirds theme.

    In fact here's a convenient mashup!

    1. TitterYeNot


      Brilliant! Have an upvote. We are now living in the future!

      On a more serious note, I noticed that one or more of the legs appeared to catch fire during the flight due to their proximity to the rocket motor, which was a bit worrying. After reading the Youtube notes I realised this won't be the actual flight configuration:-

      "Early flights of F9R will take off with legs fixed in the down position. However, we will soon be transitioning to liftoff with legs stowed against the side of the rocket and then extending them just before landing."

      1. DrMordrid

        Re: Thunderbirds...

        The legs themselves weren't on fire. The engine turbopump exhausts were hitting them, and it is fuel rich. Some condenses on the legs and flashes over. In a real F9R landing after a x19m launch, and in later tests, the legs will be stowed until just before landing then deploy.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Good find!!

    3. Felix Krull

      No thanks

      I prefer the sound of the booster.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    There are 2 interesting claims about this.

    1)IIRC Spacex have said they could do a crewed launch to LEO as early as 2015. No NASA 'nauts on board.

    I'm guessing Spacex is not having to try too hard to find people for available seats. :)

    LEO does include the vicinity of the ISS. How close a vicinity I think will depend on how much different Dragon II is from Dragon 1. AFAIK the big difference is actually that Dragon 1 births to the station. It's pulled in by the arm. Dragon II manoeuvres independently with its own thrusters, making NASA much more twitchy about it side swiping its $100Bn asset. Outside the seating, controls and upgraded life support my instinct is the 2 Dragons are pretty similar because they designed all the plumbing and wiring for humans from day 1. It's the software that's really different, driving displays, manual controls etc.

    2) In a Wired interview Musk said Dragon II could do supersonic ignition retro fire landings on Mars. Obviously no one is going to spend 18 months in a Dragon but the 36 page suite Spacex filed against the US govt to stop the USAF 36 core block buy mentions that Bigelow is planning to launch a payload on an F9.

    exciting times.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: There are 2 interesting claims about this.

      Another big difference is that Dragon 2 will have to be "life-boat" capable, which means surviving 7 months attached, and able to depart by itself at the drop of a hat. As far as I am aware, the current Dragon can only survive for a few weeks, maybe a month tops.

      To be able to depart at the drop of a hat, the Dragon 2 would need at least manually controllable manoeuvring thrusters, like the Soyuz, and even a fully automatic system shouldn't be too hard to qualify; there is a precedent in the Euro ATV.

  3. Kharkov

    We ARE living in the future!

    Well, it's ANOTHER step forward for SpaceX. Kudos!

    So let's see... designed a rocket starting with a clean sheet of paper... for 300 million dollars, wasn't it? designed a reusable capsule starting with a clean sheet of paper... for 300 million dollars again, wasn't it? built rockets that match the performance of most versions of the Atlas V & Delta IV Heavy for... four times less money, wasn't it? have a heavy lift rocket soon to enter service that will STILL cost less than ULA's Atlas V 552 and lift more besides? making their rockets (the first stage now and the second stage later) reusable thus lowering the cost of access to space even further? have a crew-carrying capsule coming on-line soon which will be capable of reuse and landing on, well, land. Is there anyone else in the world who have done that or are doing that now?

    Some people are SpaceX fans but for the life of me, I can't understand why...

    1. FlatSpot

      Re: We ARE living in the future!

      @Kharkov - Its a little disingenuous to compare old with new for pricing. If you took COTS hardware today you could probably build rockets even cheaper but someone had to pay to develop and build the initial hardware and for that to be refined and cheaper copies made as a result.

      For example the first Atlas V launch was 2002 and SpaceX wasnt founded until 2002.

      1. Vince Lewis 1

        Re: We ARE living in the future!

        Re: Flatspot:

        Yeh, you say all that, but its not exactly rocket science is it.......

      2. Don Jefe

        Re: We ARE living in the future!

        SpaceX also has a completely different mission than any of the State sponsored space programs. A horrendously failed NASA project is still a success. Figuring out what not to do is 50% of doing something right. Anyone who has ever designed and built something from scratch knows that very well.

        SpaceX also benefits greatly from a supply chain funded 100% by US taxpayers. A supply chain that shouldn't actually exist. We provide custom tooling and a variety of mission specific component housings to some of the companies that provide SpaceX with 'stuff'. Unfortunately, a lot of those companies are ordering work for projects they know, hell, everybody involved knows, will never be launched. The idea being that if that supply chain were to fall into disrepair it would cost far, far more money and time to rebuild, were it ever needed, it than it does to maintain it with busy work.

        I don't disagree with that thinking at all. You lose your experienced staff and you may as well lose everything. I also think it's fantastic that SpaceX is pumping real work into companies staffed by people who don't just want a paycheck, they want to put things into space (it's cool :) SpaceX has done some fantastic work and deserve recognition and whatever riches they can find. But they're also the last link in a chain that's 60 years old and built at stupendous expense and no small loss of life. More than anything I'm just glad to see somebody who isn't afraid of a little debt trying to get into space.

        1. Kharkov

          Re: We ARE living in the future!

          SpaceX is standing on the shoulders of giants? True, that. Is there a reason to keep skilled, trained, experienced workers on the payroll? Absolutely yes, I'm right with you on that.

          My point is that these much-needed skills are being used to... build something horribly expensive, that's just like what's gone before, only bigger and is, to add insult to injury, highly likely to be cancelled by the new President in 2016. Maybe NASA will be allowed to get EM-1 off the ground but funding something so very, very expensive when the private sector will have something with about 75% of the performance for one-tenth the cost is just not on.

          Those skilled workers should be doing something that the private sector ISN'T doing (A shuttle Mark II?) and if they can't, then at least stop paying them from NASA's extremely limited budget. Don't hold NASA responsible for them, just let it put that 3 billion dollars a year into more probes/landers/orbiters etc.

          Also, it looks like ULA/Boeing/LM et al are planning to ride their current business model all the way down to the ground. Highly reliable (you can complain about cost but there's not much that can match their track record) one-time-usage rockets for very large sums of money, lather, rinse & repeat until the Government finally gets around to switching to a (much) cheaper supplier.

          At which point, it seems, the upper management/directors/executives will step back into positions at Boeing/Lockeed Martin and the workers on the factory floor will get their pink slips. And the reason I think this? SpaceX has consistently told the world about their very low prices, they have consistently demonstrated an intention to do things that will lower their costs even more. ULA's public comments say nothing about cheaper rockets in the future, nothing about new rockets in the future. In fact, just about everything they say boils down to, 'We're reliable so stick with us.'

          Dinosaurs, watching the incoming asteroid, telling each other that there's still time to party...

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: We ARE living in the future!

          "SpaceX also benefits greatly from a supply chain funded 100% by US taxpayers. A supply chain that shouldn't actually exist. We provide custom tooling and a variety of mission specific component housings to some of the companies that provide SpaceX with 'stuff'. Unfortunately, a lot of those companies are ordering work for projects they know, hell, everybody involved knows, will never be launched. The idea being that if that supply chain were to fall into disrepair it would cost far, far more money and time to rebuild, were it ever needed, it than it does to maintain it with busy work."

          Interesting point. It's one of NASA's truly massive contributions that they initially funded companies to put the parts on the shelves in the first place.

          But note a lot of that happened through the 1960's, some in the 1970's and a little in the 1980's.

          How much since?

          However as George Kooperman observed those companies charge arm-and-a-leg fees for the slightest mfg change and their parts are not very cheap to begin with.

          That's part of the reason why Spacex has an exceptionally high proportion of hardware built in house.

          The one's Spacex is buying in must be very good to still be Spacex's suppliers, both in quality and cost.

          Incidentally if you want a real villain that has decimated the US space logistics supply chain look no further than the insane ITAR regs. Some years ago they were estimated to have cost US space businesses $1Bn. That sum is probably well North of $2Bn by now.

          There is no telling how many companies have left the business or simply gone under because the US launch market could not sustain the volume they needed to stay.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: We ARE living in the future!

            I am supplying kit to SpaceX and my company resides outside of the US.

            If you know how to design the right COTS (Common Off The Shelf) components, it is just a comodity they can purchase.

  4. ian 22

    Are the Russians still using Soviet designs?

    And sneering at the USians?

    Sorry, but it looks like FAIL.

    BTW, is that farm land surrounding the launch site? Farmers must be muttering "gid orf moi atmosphere", or whatever accent they use in that region.

  5. Paul_Murphy

    Space Elevators

    I think that more effort should be put into building space elevators, rockets are rather a dead-end as far as the future goes.

    The LiftPort Group ( are trying, but more needs to be done.

    With the development of usable graphene we are seeing the first of the real technical hurdles go down.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Space Elevators

      "" appears to be having some share dealing issues.

      Until volume production of a material that has the necessary bulk properties this is going nowhere.

      I think Spacex will demonstrate 1st stage reusability, indeed I think Skylon will demonstrate a 1st flight, before a space elevator is constructed.

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: Space Elevators

      On a similar line, we should stop building cars; obviously a dead-end technology. Everyone knows that matter transport is the way to go, and there have been a few theoretical papers and at least 1 photon demonstation that it is possible!

  6. Sproggit

    Program Costs

    I think Kharkov makes some interesting points about the cost of the U.S. space program, but in large part I suspect they miss the truth of it. American space exploration was launched by Kennedy with two aims in mind. One was as a means of demonstrating the 'superiority' of Capitalism on the world stage - the chief protagonist being the U.S.S.R. at the time. The other was as a means of boosting the US economy. In economic terms, the 1950s had largely been about the US shifting back from a war economy (and recovering from the costs). Kennedy's plan was simple - pour vast amounts of public funds into the space program at the top (via NASA) and then ensure that it trickled out into the broader economy by allowing NASA to award contracts. This wasn't quite a "cost no object" approach, but remember that NASA had a sponsor (Kennedy) who was very keen to demonstrate American technical prowess with a moon landing. So the start of the space program was done on a "just make it happen" budget.

    The second aspect to this is to think about contemporary capability at the time: materials science was pathetically ignorant in comparison with what we've learned since. More, one of the major challenges in getting the moon program started was the development of an avionics computer capable of adjusting the vectored thrust of the launch vehicle 50 times a second. With today's technology, our reaction to that would be "Pfft!" (too easy) - back then they had to develop that capability from scratch.

    Since the 1950s mankind has learned that a space program isn't merely "science fiction" but that it has a broad range of commercial benefits, including better communications, SatNav, (satellite dish) entertainment and even R&D. Operating in space has become a legitimate commercial goal.

    When you combine these two major factors (the pressure to be commercially viable and the *massive* advances in the relevant sciences) it stands to reason that we should be able to start today and develop a program that is massively cheaper than NASA's original 1950s offering.

    However, despite all of the above, I do think that what we're witnessing today is special - but for different reasons. If we compare not just the design but the entire mindset behind Rutan's SpaceShip One, for instance, the articulated tail section is not just engineering genius, it's a very elegant solution to the deceleration/re-entry problem... If we look at Musk's idea to allow the "spent" first stage of a rocket to retain just enough fuel to safely land itself... Then it's becoming clear that we've moved beyond the occasionally wasteful "just enough to work" mentality of the "public sector" space program of the 1950s, and are now looking at a commercially viable future.

    1. noominy.noom

      Re: Program Costs


      Won't give you a down vote for it, but your history is a bit short. Kennedy didn't start American space exploration. Mercury was already in progress long before Kennedy was elected or sworn in. Gemini was on the drafting table though I don't believe it was named Gemini until after Apollo was named (1962?) And that's just the human space flight portion.

  7. ptmmac

    Bright future for SpaceX

    The real difference between the 20th century's version of space technology and the 21st century's will be the application of assembly line efficiencies to the essentially hand made cutting edge tech of NASA. When SpaceX has dropped the cost of launches by 10 fold, then Nasa and the Pentagon can use their financial muscle to actually start new endeavors like a real space station and asteroid mining ventures. How much of the Space Station's cost was simply launch costs? How much more quickly will satellites receive tech updates and refueling if they can be worked on by robots or drones that launch on a 1/10 budget? Most importantly, how much lower will launch costs go if we see daily flights from earth to orbit? With companies like SpaceX building the rockets for daily flights, then they will be made on an assembly line with exceptional quality testing this will continue to lower costs and reduce failure. Costs to Leo could easily reach down below $500 per Kg. That leaves a ticket to the space station running about $100,000 with profit and supplies for a stay added.

    These are the kind of interesting times that we can all hope for.

    1. Kharkov

      Re: Bright future for SpaceX

      'NASA & the Pentagon can start new endeavors'

      Remember that, back in the early nineties, when Bush Snr made his call for a renewed push into space, NASA responded by coming up with plans for space stations, propellent depots, orbital assembly platforms, lunar bases & a somewhat-flawed Mars plan... All of which was costed at 450 billion dollars. Congress, needless to say, didn't fund any of it.

      A powerful argument could be made that, if a similar call is made in 2016, NASA would come up with a similar plan, costing even more than last time, only to be blocked by Congress.

      Personally, I think it more likely that the early 2020's will see a private space station with a Mars mission in the mid 2020's similarly privately funded.

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