Dragon Returns

A reader emailed me, asking why I hadn’t mentioned this weekend’s return of Endeavour from ISS (it will be splashing down in about three hours). I replied that there wasn’t much to talk about; the entire mission has been utterly nominal. At this point, like Elon, I’m much more interested in Starship. It would be great if it can take its first flight on the same day that Dragon returns with crew, though.

[Noon PDT update]

They’re in the water, and SpaceX’s job is done. It appears to have been a perfect flight.

[Update at 1230 PDT]

Where the hell was the Coast Guard? How did those private boats get so close to the capsule? I can’t believe they didn’t set up a perimeter. Meanwhile…

34 thoughts on “Dragon Returns”

  1. I’m surprised they’re using parachutes since those have never been shown to save lives in controlled scientific studies.

  2. Agree with it being normal. They’ve been launching and recovering Dragon resupply vessels for sometime now. This time NASA let them put humans on board to hit touch screen buttons for something to do for the long flight. At this point, if they don’t have two docked to ISS at a time, then we are wasting ISS a resource. We might as well look at the next big thing, Starship.

    1. Well, in October, there will be two docked: the USCV-1 crew Dragon, and the first upgraded Cargo Dragon.

      Anyhow, 7 crew is the max the station’s life support can handle at this point.

  3. Social media having a melt-down that one of the pleasure craft in the area and seen on NASA TV had a prominent Trump 2020 flag. LOL!

    Sure, it probably wasn’t a good idea that the boat was that close to the recovery efforts (Uh, couldn’t NASA get the USGC ship on scene?), but it still brought a smile to my face.

    1. The difference between private enterprise and the Military-Industrial Complex is quite astounding. Perfect flight. Can’t wait for it to become routine again.

      I just about split a gut seeing that Trump flag! That was awesome. I’m thinking it was planned.

      1. Remember that this was merely a demonstration flight. Wasn’t even a formal crew rotation flight. That it resulted in more manhours in orbit than Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo 7&8 is totally irrelevant.

  4. Quite a change from the old capsule recovery days. That ship with the a-arm lift on the back made short order of it. It was kind of cool to see the capsule then slide back into the covered part of the ship on that mechanized track.

    Too bad NASA won’t go for land-based returns. Oh well, Starship will have that covered.

    1. Boeing already has that covered, or would if they can make it work in November. And then there’s Dream Chaser. If that works, Cargo Dragon’s days are numbered. Although Dragon XL’s not far away either.

      1. What are the chances for a Dream Chaser mated to the top of a Falcon 9? A $62 million boost to space is a lot less expensive than a $100+ million, or whatever more ULA will charge for a launch on Vulcan (or more if delays in Vulcan force the use of an Atlas 5).

        Would Dream Chaser fit in a Falcon 9 fairing?

        1. The first 6 cargo Dream Chasers are already contracted to fly on Vulcans, if I am not mistaken. (I sense that ULA cut them a discounted price.)

          What they’ll do for the flights after that, however…

      2. From what I’ve read, the legacy Cargo Dragon has already flown its last mission. Future Dragon cargo vehicles will use a derivative of the Crew Dragon. Probably the biggest difference between the crew and cargo versions will be that the cargo version won’t have the Super Draco launch abort system, seats, or control panels.

        1. There’ll be two Crew Dragons at ISS simultaneously in March, as USCV-1 and -2 will overlap by a week.

          There’s a nomenclature problem thanks to Musk having problems with naming conventions (his most recent kid, by way of example…). So the first generation cargo Dragon is Dragon 1 now, stopped being manufactured years ago, and ended with CRS-20. Dragon 2 comes in two variants, Crew Dragon (beginning with DM-1 and DM-2, proceeding to Crew-1 in September) and Cargo Dragon (beginning with CRS-21 NET Oct. 30).

          Current plan is for a minimum one Crew and two Cargo Dragons a year (depending on whethert Boeing gets Starliner flying), alongside one each Cygnus and HTV-X per year, with one or two Dream Chaser/Shooting Star combos starting late next year. But there will also be an annual Axiom Crew Dragon for the next four years, and then who knows, if the Axiom Segment is actually built in the 2024 – 2028 time frame. We’ll see.

    1. Wondering about what happens to the flag now. I think it ought to get at least a week or two on display in Hawthorne.

  5. The thing about this is, fly with the spaceship you have, rather than waiting for the more exciting one to come. Falcons and Dragons will be flying for the next few years (eight to ten), even if Starship really does pan out (highly likely) and even if it reallty does hit Musk’s asperational goals that including a crewed landing on Mars by 2025 (less likely).

    In the end, Starship, as currently envisions, will be just as short lived as anything else, and will be gone in 20 or30 years, because it’s too small. I understand why the original ITS plan was downsized, but it could have done the job without the momumental refueling problem.

    It’s also true that while you can *imagine* reaching the out planets with Starship, it’s unlikely to happen. Under the best of circumstance, a Starship based expedition to the moons of Saturn is going to require a 5-6 year round trip. Each Starship will have to be accompanied by a squadron of robot freighters and tankers.

    My prediction is, in the medium term (the rest of this century) what we’ll need if we want to explore and exploit the solar system if something like NautilusX, only much larger, and with nuclear-electric propulsion. Starships will be its landers. And there’s a lot of politics between that day and this one. Maybe China will do it, with the People’s Republic of America as a junior partner. Or maybe the American people will wake the fuck up.

    1. There is an opportunity here for a new entity. When anyone who can afford to buy products and services in space has the capability to do so, many doors open.

    2. A 5-6 year round trip will define require some kind of artificial gravity capability.

      Still, that’s just an engineering problem, and it will have an engineering solution.

      1. That’s the point of NautilusX. It has an artificial gravity segment. The other thing you’ll notice is, the supplies for the six-crew version were supposed to be carried in six B330 modules. A Starship going to Saturn will require six robot freighters to carry crew supplies. Six years worth of food, air, and water!

    3. Ain’t nobody flying to Saturn unless we get our political act together.

      All that space exploration stuff, like calling the police when your home is broken into, “comes from a place of privilege” – Lisa Bender, Minneapolis City Council.

  6. Great job. Thanks for the space to comment Rand.
    NASA now has its space taxi to LEO.

    As for the rest of us, we’ll see whither Starship.
    But, like Dr. Robert Zubrin has pointed out, there is a hell of a lot that could be done by evolving Crew Dragon that is not being done. Musk is too impatient to do it, or rather maybe too enamored of tech and thinks there is a faster path and NASA is not being allowed to do it because pork is better than plan.

    I’m not saying Musk is wrong, but sometimes innovators are their own worst enemy. We’ll see. If Musk is successful, certainly Starship capabilities will far exceed Crew Dragon and we’ll be on our way. Musk will again be revered as a genius for perhaps his greatest innovation: figuring out how to get there using government and private money.

    1. One interesting element for me is that whether this successful flight moves the needle at all towards Spacex Starship being downselected for HLS especially if the current funding numbers remain the same(SpX being able to fit in the budget numbers House Democrats are talking about much more easily than BO or Dynetics).

  7. As an aside, I looked up the data and this mission was the longest a manned US vehicle was in orbit since Skylab 3 (1974). The Shuttle endurance record was only 17 days.

    1. The Shuttle generated all of its electricity using fuel cells. The availability of LOX and LH2 were the limiting factors in how long a Shuttle could remain in orbit. Crew Dragon uses solar cells on the trunk to generate electricity. It’s next mission will shatter the US crew vehicle duration record.

  8. I’m pretty sure the security plan for recovery was based on the 20 cargo recoveries. Coast Guard was tasked with clearing the area when something was dropping from the sky. They got surprised by the number of gawkers and will do better next time.

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