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Opening The Kimono

I've been hearing rumors about this for about three years, but as part of its COTS proposal, SpaceX has revealed that it's been developing a crew capsule (presumably to be launched on the Falcon series).

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 06, 2006 11:33 AM
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I'm hoping that at some point there's some mix'n'match, so that the best boosters and best capsules get together, whoever makes them. In addition to cost and innovation benefits, that also allows for partial system replacement in the event of a grounding. Not sure how "friendly" some of these designs are to each other, though.

Posted by Big D at March 6, 2006 01:02 PM

My guess is that they would be extremely unfriendly at first unless someone like NASA forces them to be compatible. OTOH, if you could build something like the "30-man-day-life-support system" and have it fit multiple vehicles, that would open up some interesting niches.

Posted by Karl Hallowell at March 6, 2006 03:07 PM

Musk has been pretty direct at times, stating that he is interested in building manned spacecraft, and in "eventually" building a capsule. He's also said that, to encourage diversity on the capsule front, they'd charge themselves the same amount internally for a Falcon launch as they would an unrelated capsule company who only wanted to procure launch services from them.

Who knows whether they'd actually do that if a competing capsule actually showed up. But, Musk has seemed concerned about orbital spacecraft diversity. He may want to own the launch market, but I think he wants as many customers as possible using those boosters, even if that means competition for his capsules.

Posted by at March 6, 2006 06:52 PM

"He may want to own the launch market" or he may not (even at 51%.) His motivation does not have to be the same as others. He's is a throwback in one sense though, he has the can do attitude that many seem to have lost. This capsule is a good, if expected, piece of news.

I find it interesting that a heat-shield was not part of the prototype. It suggests at some level a very outward bound focus.

Posted by ken anthony at March 6, 2006 07:26 PM

They very explicity _do_ want to own the launch market. SpaceXers have told me this directly, without hesitation. They want to wipe the floor with everyone elsem, and they are extremely confident that they can. They're very aware, though, of how serious of a challenge that will be.

The lack of a heatshield does not imply "outward bound focus." It's just an omission of a critical but well-understood component. If I were test flying capsules, I might fly some early articles without heatshields. I might also fly some disposable pressurized capsules later sans heatshield, in a similar vein to Progress, if that would be more profitable. (Not that I suspect that that's actually the case.) I wouldn't read too much in to that.

Posted by at March 6, 2006 07:54 PM

Agreed, the lack of a heat-shield indicates only one thing: it was a test-article designed for learning. Thus, they did not use that test-article to learn about heat-shield construction. I think it's a good sign, actually. They're not just fiddling around with view graphs for half a decade and then failing to build a workable craft like everyone else. They're bending metal, getting their hands dirty, and gaining knowledge and experience. That's the kind of thing I desperately want to see in this industry. And it's something we're seeing more of, thankfully, from startups like XCOR, Scaled/Virgin Galactic, Armadillo, and SpaceX.

Remember, the technology of manned spaceflight is over 4 decades old. Any company entering that business does not need high-tech R&D or cutting edge designs (unless they want to entice the feds into giving them a cushy cost-plus procurement deal). They need experience and the ability to drive projects forward to completion (on time and on budget).

Posted by Robin Goodfellow at March 6, 2006 09:07 PM

I'd like to announce that I am working on a hyperspace transport. I expect to be finished with it sometime in the next 5 to 10 years, and invite NASA and all the propeller heads out there to contribute their time and money (mostly money) to it's developement.

Posted by K at March 6, 2006 10:29 PM

re wiping the floor with other launch companies

What's Spacex's response if the Russians drop their launch prices significantly? I've heard rumors they have a lot of room for that, but don't do it because of political and other reasons. But many of those would vanish if a cheaper western launcher entered the market.
Maybe the Rockots and such are not seen as reliable enough launchers and Spacex thinks it can outcompete in that way.

Posted by meiza at March 7, 2006 04:22 AM

What's Spacex's response if the Russians drop their launch prices significantly? I've heard rumors they have a lot of room for that

If they're smart, they have a lot of room for that as well. Of course, they'll get some business from people who simply want (or need) to buy American.

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 7, 2006 07:44 AM

SpaceX is ITAR free. That is a cost savings in itself.

Posted by Mike Puckett at March 7, 2006 09:55 AM

Interesting that they picked exactly the same mold line/entry mode as t/space--the Discoverer capsule.

Posted by Patrick at March 7, 2006 10:53 AM

A heatshield is only necessary for crew return. Not necessary for cargo delivery. Makes sense they'd put it off until later.

Posted by Sean at March 8, 2006 07:54 AM

Whoever coined that phrase, 'opening the kimono,' deserves a beating.

Posted by Rick C at March 8, 2006 11:16 AM

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