What is the cheapest space capsule
The rocket company Space-X has spread out directly at the Saturn Causeway in Cape Canaveral / Florida. Here at the entrance to launch pad 39A, where the gigantic SaturnRockets from the Apollo moon missions drove past at a snail's pace, the blue letters of the space company owned by Elon Musk are now emblazoned on a hangar. Space-X has secured the historic launch site until 2034, rebuilt it and installed this huge integration hall in which several Falcon- Find space for missiles.
Musk wants to continue writing the history of American space travel in his own way in the middle of the Florida marshland, not far from the Atlantic. Here where once Apollo 11 set off for the first manned moon landing, he first got his new rocket a year ago Falcon Heavy start - effective advertising with a Tesla sports car on board, which is now floating around somewhere in the solar system. On Saturday, Musk wants an unmanned first test flight of his astronaut capsule Dragon 2 the beginning of an era in which a private company will transport astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time.
The Falcon 9 has been standing "vertical" on launch pad 39A for a few weeks, and it is enthroned at the very top Dragon 2-Capsule that can accommodate up to seven astronauts. The capsule should only be equipped with dummies during the test flight, as Space-X Vice President Hans Koenigsmann said in a press briefing. If the flight to the ISS goes smoothly, two astronauts could fly the Dragon to the ISS in July, according to the plan.
Space-X is not alone, however: the aviation group Boeing has also developed a crew capsule with seven seats - the CST-100 Starliner is expected to be a few kilometers further with a for the first time in April Atlas-The United Launch Alliance rockets are launched, and three astronauts are expected to fly to the ISS in a further test in August.
After private companies like Space-X have been supplying the ISS with cargo for years, the American space agency NASA is expanding its cooperation with industry. A turning point in space travel.
For the first time since 2011, when the flights with the Space shuttle were hired, the USA could bring people into space independently again this year without being dependent on the Russians: a whole generation of astronauts is with the Soyuz-Capsule flown to the ISS - according to NASA for about 80 million dollars per seat. In the case of Space-X and Boeing, this will then cost around $ 60 million.
NASA started the so-called Commercial Crew Program in 2010 in order to be able to close the gap as soon as possible after the space shuttle. Of five companies that wanted to build the crew capsule, Boeing and Space-X are left, which, according to NASA, received a total of 4.8 and 3.1 billion dollars, respectively, to develop the spaceship. The first manned flight was supposed to take place in 2017 - but there were delays. The US Congress of Auditors, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), had spoken of security risks for the crews. GAO identified deficiencies in the launch system and criticized the fact that Space-X does not want to refuel its rocket until the astronauts have already taken their seats in the capsule. And Boeing has to rework the rescue and landing system for its Starliner.
"The spaceship is not yet fully qualified," admits Nasa manager Bill Gerstenmaier. "But we know the hardware is good enough to do this demonstration flight." Especially since the Dragon 1Capsule has already flown 15 cargo missions to the ISS. Ultimately, it is also about identifying further deficiencies in Dragon 2. "We expect to learn a lot on this flight." At the moment, among other things, possible problems with the parachute system and nozzles on the capsule still need to be resolved. As for the refueling problem, the Falcon 9 should be refueled shortly before take-off. The astronauts are already on board, but can be evacuated using a rescue system.
Space-X manager Koenigsmann, who developed the concept of reusable rockets, is happy. "Manned space travel is the core mission of Space-X, there is nothing more important," he says, speaking of exciting times. In the 1960s, the native of Berlin followed the moon landings with enthusiasm on television, and now he is working on the historic launch pad in Cape Canaveral himself.
Even if the capsule will only be filled with supply freight and hardware for the ISS during the demonstration flight on Saturday, Koenigsmann hopes that he will be able to say goodbye to astronauts for the first time at ramp 39A in the summer. And since the Dragon 2 is supposed to dock with the space station during the first test flight, there will also be photos with ISS astronauts who can test-sit at the consoles there after unloading.
The Dragon capsule is due to land again in the Atlantic next Friday. The fact that it does not land spectacularly on solid ground with its own drive, as originally intended, is also due to NASA's caution: "It would have been an enormous effort to get this procedure approved," said Musk.
The plans go much further - to Mars
In any case, the way to the ISS seems to be only a preliminary exercise - measured against the other plans of the Space X chief. In January, Musk tweeted a picture that looked like he was suddenly showing off his true lover: Was visible Starship, or better: a test model of it. It is not intended for space flights, but is only intended for testing take-offs and landings. The silver-colored thing shone so unreal in the sun that Musk added as a precaution that it was a real picture. The shape of the test model was also disturbing. It was amazingly reminiscent - and if Musk is to be believed, not entirely by chance - of a rocket model from the "Tintin" comic series.
Starship is the new name for that Big Falcon Rocket, a more than 100 meters long construct of spaceship and rocket carrier. According to Musk, this could mean "anywhere in the solar system" from Earth. The outer skin should then consist of a stainless steel alloy. In itself, steel is considered to be far too heavy for rocket construction. But Musk claims that the comparatively cheap material could work for Starship even if it entered the atmosphere of Mars. In order to survive the enormous frictional heat, water or fuel should come to the surface from tiny openings and protect the outer skin: Starship would sweat.
Judging by these bold dreams, Dragon is just conventional space travel. But that is tricky enough. At the latest when the capsule with slightly charred heat tiles is pulled out of the water, one should remember that space travel near the earth is a business that is at the limit of what is possible.
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