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Dragons In Space

December 8, 2010

One Small Step for Industry

As if Elon Musk hasn’t enough balls in the air with the Tesla Motors successful IPO, managing SolarCity, his recent marriage to movie star Talulah Riley and raising five young boys, he’s a captain in the burgeoning space industry.  Today was a special day for the Howard Hughes like billionaire entrepreneur. His rocket ship company scored big.

SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 AM EST from Launch Complex 40 at the Air Force Station at Cape Canaveral.

The Dragon spacecraft orbited the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, and landed in the Pacific Ocean shortly after 2:00 PM EST.

This marks the first time a commercial company has successfully recovered a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only six nations or government agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

It is also the first flight under NASA’s COTS program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience toward this goal.

View the press kit: cots1-201012.pdf

Dragon Spacecraft with Solar Panels deployed

DragonLab DataSheet

Dragon is a free-flying, reusable spacecraft being developed by SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Initiated internally by SpaceX in 2005, the Dragon spacecraft is made up of a pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members.

The Dragon spacecraft is comprised of 3 main elements: the Nosecone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the Spacecraft, which houses the crew and/or pressurized cargo as well as the service section containing avionics, the RCS system, parachutes, and other support infrastructure; and the Trunk, which provides for the stowage of unpressurized cargo and will support Dragon’s solar arrays and thermal radiators.

In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires. The $1.6 billion contract represents a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.

The LA Times had a series of articles on the history of SpaceX, Below are excerpts from a few.

SpaceX receives FAA certification for Dragon spacecraft

November 22, 2010 |  2:24 pm

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the Hawthorne-based rocket venture better known as SpaceX, reached a milestone Monday: It received the Federal Aviation Administration’s first-ever commercial license to reenter a spacecraft from Earth orbit.

The privately owned company needed the certification before its scheduled Dec. 7 maiden launch of the Dragon space capsule, which is being designed to carry cargo and crew for NASA.

The Dragon capsule is considered a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle program is mothballed in 2011.

NASA has already awarded SpaceX $1.6 billion in contracts to transport cargo to the International Space Station on the Dragon, starting as early as next year.

“With this license in hand, SpaceX can proceed with its launch of the Dragon capsule,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said in a statement. “The flight of Dragon will be an important step toward commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station.”

What Goes Around Comes Around – Return to Rocket City

SpaceX opens office in Alabama to be ‘part of Rocket City’

October 28, 2010 |  3:31 pm | LA Times

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. quietly opened a new office Thursday in Huntsville, Ala., dubbed “Rocket City” for its long history with U.S. space missions.

SpaceX currently employs more than 1,100 people, most in California. The firm makes its rockets in a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the production line for Boeing’s 747 jumbo jet.

The news comes just weeks before a key launch of its Dragon spacecraft, a cargo capsule that might one day carry astronauts into space, which is now slated for Nov. 18.

In June, SpaceX’s nine-engine rocket, the Falcon 9, made its maiden flight from a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX after becoming a multimillionaire in Silicon Valley. He poured most of his personal fortune into the venture.

The Falcon 9 launch marked a major milestone in efforts to shift spacecraft development — which has long been dominated by governments and large, established aerospace firms — to privately funded start-ups.

Today the sweet smell of rocket engine victory permeates the launch pad, but it has not always been so for Musk. In an extensive interview with Inc. Musk discussed the dark days of a messy public divorce and near destruction of his empire…

By Max Chafkin | Oct 1, 2010 | Read full article…

In August 2008, SpaceX suffered its third consecutive launch failure, losing a rocket and two satellites — and the remains of James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in the original Star Trek TV series. Doohan had paid to have his ashes shot into orbit. Instead, they ended up in the South Pacific, with what was left of the rocket and the satellites.

Musk was devastated. SpaceX’s goal had been to make rockets cheaper to launch and more reliable. Instead, the company had lost every rocket it had launched and had spent nearly all of the $100 million that Musk had used to found the company.

Then, just as Musk was trying to raise additional funds so Tesla could begin building the Model S, the credit markets collapsed, and the auto industry seized up. Tesla had just four months of operating capital left in the bank at a time when no investor wanted to sink money into an unprofitable car company. Even SolarCity was foundering. Morgan Stanley, which had been financing no-money-down solar panel leases, pulled out of the program, temporarily cutting the company’s sales in half. “It looked like all three might go under,” says Musk.

I had never seen Musk show any kind of emotional vulnerability before he told this story. He looked down and then confessed that he would often wake up and discover that he had been sobbing in his sleep. To Musk, a man who had steered his own destiny since his early teens, the loss of self-control was terrifying. “I’d wake up and just be like, What the fuck,” Musk says. “I think that it’s like” — he pauses, suddenly seeming far younger than his 39 years, and then tries to explain — “When you’re asleep, there’s just much less emotional control.”  Video of interview with Musk…

It’s one thing to dream big. It’s an entirely different thing to bring dreams to reality. Elon Musk and SpaceX  make a great story and we’re only at the beginning…

Epilogue

December 9, 2010.

The day after the successful launch and recovery of  the Dragon spacecraft Elon Musk revealed the secret cargo the craft carried. A wheel of LeBrouere cheese.  It was a tip of the hat to Monty Python and its famous Cheese Shop skit.

Not Much of a Cheese Craft – is it?

Nice to take such a high risk venture and still maintain a sense of humor. And certainly a happier ending than what happened to James Doohan’s ashes. The Cheese Shop along with The Argument Clinic is one of my favorite Python bits. The artwork on the cover however looks like it came from the Abrahams/Zucker movie Top Secret. Venusian Beaver Cheese anyone…

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