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Crew Dragon Docks with ISS (spacenews.com)
519 points by Kaibeezy 36 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 251 comments



SpaceX runs basically as a giant R&D program that also happens to accomplish useful things as byproducts of its approach (with the miracle of insurance to cover costs if things get explody). Every flight is data for incremental improvement.

If you think of all SpaceX has ever done was try to get to this point, with somewhere around 80 flights on the Falcon 9, but for a variety of mission buyers (NASA, USAF, Commercial Sat companies, SpaceX itself!), somewhere around $5b (~$60m a launch) has been spent getting an entirely new, ground-up manned space program up and running to include launch vehicle with a majority re-usability. But along the way, numerous satellites and other stuff ended up in space as well. This allowed NASA to also split the R&D bill with multiple "partners".

To put this into context, the Mercury program ran about $2.25b in today's dollars, Gemini ran $7.3b ($723m per mission!).

The Space Shuttle program had a lifetime cost of $209b ($1.5b per flight!!!) If you think the Shuttle program is not comparable, the F9Heavy program, a derivative of this other work, can put up more mass than the Shuttle, managed to split much of the development costs with the Falcon 9, can land most of its mass, and has a per flight cost of $90m.

We now have the capability to put up another ISS today, resupply it, and staff it, at a fraction of the cost, all with launch equipment made by a single company that started a decade ago as a side project for a guy who was trying to make electric cars after making money on the internet.

This is a ridiculous bargain and Spacex isn't even close to done yet.


Incredibly impressive, but you have to take into account both more modern technology, as well as the fact that they were able to build off the shoulders of giants. It is still amazing of course, but I doubt they could've done the same thing during the era of the mercury program, so not really apples to apples comparison.


Guidance systems are vastly less expensive now, and can take advantage of things like MEMs, fiber laser gyros, and GPS (and, of course, modern computing power).

The tanks on Falcon are welded using Friction Stir Welding, which was invented in the early 1990s.

The landing algorithm for the first stage uses convex optimization algorithms based on interior point methods, which were not available in the 1960s.

However, something very much like an expendable F9 could probably have been built in the 1980s. Simply evolving the Saturn 1B (which was cheaper, per lb of payload to orbit, than the Saturn V) could have easily beaten the Shuttle's economic performance.


I had not heard of Friction Stir Welding previously. Video that demonstrates the technique is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNbQH8XBgxQ


Smarter Every Day has a very interesting video[1] inside the factory of United Launch Alliance in which, among a lot of other things, shows the friction stir welding used in their Atlas Rocket[2]:

[1] https://youtu.be/o0fG_lnVhHw

[2] https://youtu.be/o0fG_lnVhHw?t=1933


This is a great video. Thank you for sharing it.


The gimmick that Eclipse Aircraft (Paul Allen) used to get almost half a billion in investment is they would use FSW instead of rivets.

But that wasn't the main problem with creating a new jet, which has a myriad of other issues before certification.


I'm going to go with SpaceX doesn't have to source from 50 states. It also hasn't had its funding turned off and on.


More generally, SpaceX doesn't have to pay the cost of crossing organizational boundaries. When that happens, unless the parts are standardized and commoditized, then requirements have to be formalized, contracts and costs negotiated. Time and again SpaceX found it was cheaper and faster to just do things themselves rather than buy from traditional aerospace contractors.


"It also hasn't had its funding turned off and on."

That one's a killer. I was once a project manager at an aerospace company developing a new processor chipset for space applications. Our government customer would run out of money near the end of every fiscal year, forcing us to shut down. Then a few months later they would secure funds and ask us to restart. By then most of my staff would have been reassigned to other projects. It was stupidly inefficient and caused costs to balloon.


Yes, mass scale optimization software (CPLEX, GUROBI, XPRESS) is all pretty recent and has completely changed countless industries and saved billions of dollars.


One dimension to this that is often forgotten is that SpaceX does things, though. Of course, many problems are solvable now that everything is more advanced, but putting them to use and creating actual progress for humanity is the real fantastic feat of SpaceX.


yeah, ideas and algorithms are a dime a dozen. turning them into reality is the hard part.


Not to mention CFD modeling - the F1 engines' combustion stability took enormous amount of iterative development and exploding test articles to get right, whereas new engine designs are much closer to working when the first prototypes roll out.


> Simply evolving the Saturn 1B (which was cheaper, per lb of payload to orbit, than the Saturn V) could have easily beaten the Shuttle's economic performance.

I don't know how much it applies, but sometimes evolving something requires switching out components for other ones, which are more expensive. Not everything scales. Marketing isn't the only reason why 50% more capability often costs 100% more. I imagine with rocketry, you're often operating at the edge of the capability for certain materials and approaches.


We have an example of a better component, that is otherwise very similar: the first stage engines of the Saturn IB and the Falcon 9:

H-1: https://en.wikpedia.org/wiki/Rocketdyne_H-1

Merlin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX_Merlin

The Merlin has considerably higher specific impulse and thrust/weight ratios. It also has very fast throttling, a necessity for vertical landing. And, it's remarkably cheap (less than $1M per engine). I don't have the figure for the inflation-adjusted cost of the H-1, but I suspect it was much more expensive.


There is a typo in the H-1 link It should be: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocketdyne_H-1


> The landing algorithm for the first stage uses convex optimization algorithms based on interior point methods, which were not available in the 1960s.

Is this level of optimisation really needed? I thought most of the landing was having enough fuel margin and then running a PID control algorithm during the landing burn.


Apparently yes. See Lars Blackmore's chapter in the 2016 "Frontiers of Engineering" (National Academy Press) (free registration required)

https://www.nap.edu/read/23659/chapter/10

https://www.nap.edu/download/23659

"SpaceX uses CVXGEN (Mattingley and Boyd 2012) to generate customized flight code, which enables very high-speed onboard convex optimization."

This is actually a great example of a true NASA spinoff, btw. Lars Blackmore was at JPL before moving to SpaceX. Landing on Mars and landing a first stage back on Earth aren't the same problem, but they're close enough for the work to transfer.


I believe that the biggest obstacle in SpaceX's "hover slam" landing isn't calculating and controlling the burn but getting sufficiently precise input in time for those calculations. It must be a miracle of sensor fusion.


We had something like an expendable F9 in the 1980s. It’s called Atlas. We used it to launch GPS. We used it during the Shuttle era and we still use it.


> but you have to take into account both more modern technology, as well as the fact that they were able to build off the shoulders of giants.

NASA is currently developing the Space Launch System (SLS) and has spent over $20b with almost nothing to show for it.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Launch_System


To be fair to NASA, I don't think SLS would be nicknamed the senate launch system if it was up to them.


I totally agree. NASA is definitely not incompetent, they are just saddled with bureaucracy and the wrong incentive structure. It's an inherent problem with public institutions, and that's why this public private partnership is so important.


Sure, there are likely many small advantages that add up. For example, 3 flat panels and a few buttons probably weigh less than a metal panel full of dials, allowing for a better payload ratio. That technology wasn't available during the Mercury/Gemini/Shuttle period for any price.


sensors and wiring always weighed more. Of course now the wiring COULD be CANbus or similar in concept instead of individual (heavy) wires. Or move the analog processing and microcontroller to the sensor itself instead of running wires all over the place to a central computer.


Iirc the computers are connected by commodity cat 6e Ethernet.


Do you mean ethernet as the link layer? I ask because I've encountered a number of systems where CAN bus is operated over a cat 6e physical layer.


I can't tell you the answer, but I can definitely say that "cat 6e" is imprecise at best because that's a misnomer rather than an actual standard.


Industry proven technology and easy as heck to replace on-site.


You can't buy company culture either, but that could have been built 40 years ago


Maybe not during Mercury, but definitely during the 70s all the technology was there to build a cheap, reusable rocket and capsule.

The dream was that the shuttle could be that system, but it did not turn out that way. And giving in to the 'sunk cost fallacy' they supported the shuttle for the next 40 years.

Arguably you could say we are 50 years behind where we should be. Unfortunately driving down costs is probably the hardest thing for any government organization to do. Given that there is no competition, no shareholders, no profit motive etc..


Didn't Space X also benefit from NASA launch facilities? I imagine their payroll also includes quite a few NASA trained people too. They certainly aren't doing rocket science from scratch or in a vacuum.

Not too say this isn't a big deal. Just that it's not all Elon and his wunderkind.


Yeah of course, SpaceX would be stupid to not use the resources NASA will make available for them. Honestly, NASA would probably much rather be out of the business of building rockets, so they can focus on the next generation of space experiments. The less money NASA has to spend on hauling stuff into space, the more they can spend on what they put up there.


> NASA would probably much rather be out of the business of building rockets

NASA has never been in the business of building tickets. Mercury went up on Army's Redstone, Gemini on Air Force Titan. Routine launches are on ICBM-derived Atlas and Titan.

Boeing and Douglas built Saturn V, Rockwell built the shuttle orbiter.


SpaceX leases the launch pad and Eastern Range, but those are paid either on a yearly basis, or per use. The NASA/DoD personnel that support the launch are getting paid whether there's a launch or not, because they're needed for any launch from the Cape.


Some are meant to teach, others are meant to do.

NASA and their bureaucracy have been sliding out of the "do" category for some time.


They’ve been doing plenty, but it’s all in unmanned missions.


Furthermore, NASA has always relied heavily on the aerospace/defense industry and related organizations to design and build spacecraft.


Yeah. It is great that Nasa and the US military paved the way, like has happened before (The internet, etc). SpaceX feels like a new era of spaceflight, harnessing so much of the potential that US government created in the previous era.


SpaceX is the most amazing demonstration of can-do spirit coupled with simple and good ideas. Elon Musk is the epitome of the can-do, unafraid, business man, but combined with great engineering chops and vision.

And think of the fact that all of this is nothing compared to what a fully-deployed StarLink will do, and what weekly or daily launch capabilities would mean for the U.S. armed forces. The number of satellites to shoot down in a war is going up, and the rate at which they can be replaced is also going up. Moreover, the cost of sending up new interesting military sats is going way down, which means we'll see greatly upgraded capabilities in many areas. Civilian science too will be benefiting greatly.

SpaceX's commercial and non-commercial competition is hobbled by subsidies. Ahhh, what a great demonstration that subsidies are dangerous to business. Otherwise, if they really wanted to, the competition is not that far behind SpaceX, and could catch up, and pretty quickly if they want to, but in the meantime, SpaceX continues to innovate and get ahead.


I would probably say courageous rather than "unafraid", there are plenty of things Elon is afraid of, most recently he was expressing how nervous he was about the dm-2 launch.

There is nothing wrong with fear, it's healthy to have a realistic view of things.

It doesn't take any courage to do something you aren't afraid of.


In his post launch statements yesterday Elon said something like “maybe I just blank out the word doubt.”

I think that’s a prerequisite to start a rocket company.


> a single company that started a decade ago as a side project for a guy who was trying to make electric cars after making money on the internet.

I believe this is backwards, SpaceX was created first and it was implied in the biography that it's more as if Tesla was the side project.


Tesla was a hostile takeover by Musk who was already an investor (arguably the largest/primary investor), as existing leadership was not focused on getting revenue in the door fast enough for the org to survive (circa 2007).

https://www.businessinsider.com/how-elon-musk-fired-tesla-ce...

Disclaimer: Long time TSLA investor


> We now have the capability to put up another ISS today, resupply it, and staff it, at a fraction of the cost, all with launch equipment made by a single company that started a decade ago.

This is the part that's exciting for me. Whether it comes in the form of more space stations like the ISS or a much bigger and reinvigorated ISS, either way is a vital step in the right direction toward making humanity less beholden to a single planet.

Lots of challenges still to come, but this is a reminder that those challenges can someday be overcome.


I love space exploration like the next guy, but I have a massive fear that a proliferation of space-stations will lead to unpleasant situations. With all its tensions, the ISS has been an amazing tool for soft diplomacy; if we start having country-specific stations we’ll soon end up with nasty arguments. Already we have competing satellites rumoured to have classified capabilities, I hate to think what they could do with manned stations.

I guess it’s inevitable.


China plans to launch the first part of their own space station next year. [1]

They actually wanted to join the ISS effort, but were given a firm no and had no other option than to do pursue their own. [2]

I don't think we will see any other country-specific stations for a long time, but modular commercial stations that can be shared for research and potential business endeavors (hotels, specialized manufacturing, ...).

If efforts like SpaceX Starship actually succeed in very significantly lowering launch costs, that is. Right now it is simply not affordable either for nations or businesses. A single Starship would actually be a great temporary space station on it's own, comparable to the ISS in usable area.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_large_modular_space_st...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_the_International_...


Don't forget the Tiangong program [1], which resulted in this spectacular docking and entry [2]

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiangong_program

2 - https://youtu.be/rPqJyS26e60


I read Russia considered to disconnect their module from ISS when the agreement about ISS expires.


My hope would be that all (or at least most) such new space stations would be "international" space stations. Stations should be differentiated by purpose rather than nationality, I think. Space doesn't have borders.

But yeah, this is definitely a reason why I hope we can keep the ISS going and just keep building on it. Additional space stations should be for good reason (for example: orbiting the moon, or - my crazy dream scenario - one orbiting in the past-GEO graveyard orbit to collect and refurbish dead satellites).

That means we should allow China to participate in the ISS, too. There are some national security concerns, apparently, but we overcame those with the USSR/Russia, and China should be no different.


I wonder if the 3rd Amendment would prevent nationalization of US space stations.


I guess it depends on who owns it, and whether or not it counts as a private home (and to be clear, nationalization in and of itself wouldn't run afoul of it, since the amendment is limited in scope to quartering of troops in a private residence without the actual residents' consent). It'd get even fuzzier if different people "own" different modules (so the military could perhaps occupy some shared corridors, but if people have attached their own modules as homes, then those would be off-limits for quartering).

Realistically, maritime law might be a better reference, given that space stations and other spaceships are informally (if not formally) referred to as "ships".


Your fears our valid, and something we have to learn to work through as a species.


AFAIK, the ISS needs to be de-orbited over an ocean, burned up, and replaced. (like the plan was from the beginning)

There are a number of scary mould patches up there, and potentially other pathogens, with no real way to properly clean the whole thing.


Almost no science is done on the ISS. Most of the time, energy and money spent on the ISS is to just keep the people alive.

But HN is consistent in admiring rocket launches without considering how pointless they are.

Bread and circuses. Nothing's changed since the gladiator days, have they?


> Almost no science is done on the ISS.

The very presence of people on the ISS is "science". The whole point of the ISS is to investigate the effects of long-term space habitation on humans. Plus, the ISS itself is an experiment, demonstrating the feasibility of in-orbit assembly of complex human-habitable structures from individually-launched-and-deployed modules (on a scale far greater than its predecessor Mir). There are even recent examples of this, like Bigelow Aerospace's module demonstrating the feasibility of inflatable space structures.

On top of that, all sorts of other experiments take place on the ISS all the time. There is, mind you, a giant Wikipedia article listing the myriad of experiments done throughout the history of the ISS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_research_on_the_Int...

And SpaceX just brought back a bunch of samples from such experiments as recently as April: https://www.slashgear.com/spacexs-dragon-cargo-ship-returns-...

Not sure where you get the impression that the ISS ain't doing much science, but it's pretty trivial to find a plethora of information indicating the exact opposite.


Could be worse, there was a flat earther commenting here about the fake SpaceX launch last week.


No, the Hubble and WMAP are some of the most-cited experiments, and ISS the least.

The ISS orbits at only 250 miles, barely into LEO.

The wikipedia article has a long list of experiments, but the question is, "Do they actually contribute anything?"

Can you name one scientific result from an ISS experiment? I can't.

> the effects of long-term space habitation on humans.

Humans aren't colonizing anything in space. You've read too many scifi books.


> No, the Hubble and WMAP are some of the most-cited experiments, and ISS the least.

Just because the experiments aren't as frequently cited doesn't mean they didn't happen at all, or that they're unimportant.

> The wikipedia article has a long list of experiments, but the question is, "Do they actually contribute anything?"

This one is vital to our understanding of how space radiation affects embryonic development, which is critical for space colonization: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experime...

Or this one, which tested various fire suppressants in microgravity to determine their effectiveness, which is critical for manned spaceflight safety beyond merely the ISS: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experime...

Or this one, where the Michael J. Fox foundation partnered with NASA to conduct research on the ISS to replicate a key protein involved in Parkinson's disease (LRRK₂) in microgravity, allowing for much larger and more uniform growth patterns than possible on Earth: https://www.michaeljfox.org/news/parkinsons-protein-blasting...

Or this one, which evaluated the risks of microbial contamination on interplanetary missions (which could jeopardize the search for extraterrestrial microbes on e.g. Mars) by examining microbes that survived on the exterior of the ISS: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22680691/

> Can you name one scientific result from an ISS experiment? I can't.

That only goes to show your lack of willingness to educate yourself on the matter. Like, a search engine ain't exactly hard to use; I was able to pull all those examples within a couple minutes.

> Humans aren't colonizing anything in space. You've read too many scifi books.

No, I've read "too many" research papers and NASA reports. Evidently you have read none.

Humans absolutely will colonize space. Obviously not right this second, but humankind has been making baby steps toward that goal for as long as it's known of the existence and the vastness of space, and there is no reason to believe that will somehow not continue to be the case. Earth won't last forever, especially at the rate we're destroying it; permanent space colonization is therefore not just an economic and scientific boon, but absolutely imperative for the long-term survival of our species.


SpaceX developments have a clearly defined goal with most engineering and production decisions made according to mission + cost constraints. The space shuttle development had dramatically changing requirements from multiple stakeholders (cheap launches, crossrange capability, recovery of military satellites, etc.) with production facilities based on jobs in voting districts. As impressive as the space shuttle was from an engineering perspective, from an economic and safety standpoint it was a complete desaster.


> all with launch equipment made by a single company that started a decade ago

SpaceX was founded in 2002, almost two decades ago


Whilst I agree with the general sentiment, the Space Shuttle was the single most capable spacecraft that has ever flown. You are not being fair in measuring it simply on the basis of how much mass it could put in Orbit.


It was an amazing vehicle and highly capable in some way, but severely constrained in others. The main problem is it was almost completely useless for any missions or activities beyond LEO. In theory you could use it to put up a small boost stage for a light interplanetary probe, but its cargo capacity was a bit small for that, and there’s just no point using a whole shuttle to do it.

Now that we have Falcon 9 and Heavy moon missions are back on the table, but the Shuttle was incapable of supporting any effective Lunar mission profiles.


The Shuttle was never designed to support Lunar missions so that's a red herring.

It was designed to recover satellites and bring them back to Earth safely as part of its military mission. Nothing Space X is offering has such a capability.

Different vehicles for different roles.


The contention was that it was the most capable spacecraft ever flown, without qualification and no reference to LEO, so I think pointing out that it's domain of operations was actually very limited is reasonable.

The shuttle was very well deigned for what it was intended to do, that's quite right, it's just a shame it was never used to perform one of it's primary tasks. However it also doomed the manned US space programme to operate exclusively in LEO for the vehicle's lifetime.


The Shuttle was never designed for operations outside of LEO. It performed the role it was designed to fulfill beautifully. The reusability wager didn't pay off and the Shuttle was expensive as hell but by golly was it capable. Nothing can compare to its combination of capabilities in putting/retrieving payload, being able to service assets with RMS, and the size of the crew it could carry and provide them a relatively comfortable environment, space lab, operational freedom it provided in extending margins of errors due to OMS and aerodynamic reentries, etc.


My understanding is that Falcon rockets are not optimal beyond LEO.

They can do it of course, Falcon Heavy could launch a car in the general direction of Mars. But they are limited by their use of kerosene in their 2nd stage and its low specific impulse compared to hydrogen.

BFR and it's Raptor engines are better suited for that purpose. But we don't have a BFR yet.


That's true Hydrolox is by far preferred for upper stages, particularly for interplanetary missions. However Heavy is so powerful it compensates quite well for it's compromises in that area. It can still boost double the payload to Trans-Mars Injection than Delta IV Heavy and more again than Atlas(1).

(1) As Dom Toretto always says, American Muscle beats Import every time ;)


The shuttle was a fiasco.

It was ridiculously expensive. It was unsafe. And everybody knew that before it flew the first mission.

http://www.iasa-intl.com/folders/shuttle/GoodbyeColumbia.htm...


Did it really cost only 5B$ to get there? I just ask because if confirmed it’s unbelievably cheap. I am /stunned/.


In direct investments perhaps yes, but like all things it is bit more complicated, it can be cheaper in each generation, you can leverage existing talent and their experience from before .

In theory a new entrant could achieve similar feats with lesser money . For example rocket lab is doing pretty well for their size with some real innovation based out of New Zealand! Extremely likely part of their staff would come from spacex ULA, NASA etc . Similarly spacex would have leveraged from ULA , NASA as well .

NASA also does help them in some areas as part of this program and others and also the money they (and others) have spent during the last 15 years especially without validation. Very few customers would invest in 10 year product development journey they way NASA has with CCS.

That would not possible without NASA’s own budgets being so large to support kind of projects like the shuttles and ISS in the first place . Only then the couple of billion they spent will look small enough to take that risk.


> For example rocket lab is doing pretty well for their size with some real innovation based out of New Zealand!

Rocket Lab isn't out of New Zealand, that's a popular underdog myth at this point. They're an American company, funded overwhelmingly by big US venture capital, that built their current technology primarily in the US.

The initial low scale efforts for Rocket Lab originated out of New Zealand, with sounding rockets. They moved to the US because they could go no further with the limited native aerospace and funding capabilities of New Zealand.

Their name is now Rocket Lab USA. Their headquarters has been in the US for most of their existence and progress.

And most of their efforts and expansion are now also focused in the US:

https://www.rocketlabusa.com/news/updates/rocket-lab-expands...

New Zealand didn't have the native aerospace engineering capabilities to build what Rocket Lab has. Most of the advanced engineering was done in California, leaning on the massive aerospace resources of the state.


I think Australia has a serious problem with national underinvestment in space. (I think the same is probably true of New Zealand as well, although I don't know as much about it, and at least with RocketLab launches New Zealand is somewhat ahead of Australia in that area.)

Australia has only had its own Space Agency since mid-2018, and its budget is minuscule (less than 10 million AUD a year.) I think Australia should aim to spend a similar percentage of GDP on civilian (non-military/non-intelligence) government space spending as the US does. Given the US economy is about 13-14 times bigger than Australia's, this would suggest ASA's annual budget ought to be around 1/13th or 1/14th of NASA's annual budget, which would be at least 100 times bigger than ASA's budget is currently. It really is an investment in the future of the country, ensuring that it doesn't get left behind.


Sorry, I was not very clear on that point, I didn't mean to imply they are doing it all in New Zealand. I meant to say that with hiring and support they get from U.S. aerospace industry (NSA, SpaceX , ULA etc) they have been able to launch out of New Zealand, for a small private country to that is remarkable and sign of lowering barriers of entry.


There's also been a few (2 to 3) billion in stock based financing. I think that the 5b estimate sounds right order of magnitude.


A considerable portion of any modern engineering project is computing, whether its rocketry, automobiles or genomics. And they can leverage Moores Law which has continued for six decades.


To be fair, Mercury and Gemini didn’t have 40 years of space science to lean on.

Now, before everyone goes huffy on me, I’m not trying to disregard everything that SpaceX has accomplished.


Incredible.

Also Tesla seems to be extremely focused on r&d.

How does Elon Musk push and run his organisations so differently that he seems to be one of the only few, if not only one, capable of running big organisations that are able to accomplish this extreme level of innovation paired with tangible results?


My extremely naive interpretation: he’s at a sweet spot crossroads of a few favourable features:

- he’s technical enough so that he actually understands what he’s doing (unlike a “non-technical cofounder”)

- working on actually inspiring projects (unlike “let’s sell ads” Google, “let’s make rich people richer” finance, “no innovation” Boeing or “Instagram for dogs” bullshit startups)

- he’s rich enough to be able to start his own company with extremely capable people, with less need to please the investors (at least in the short term)

- he’s actually driven, not just money/power-hungry like 99% of billionaires who use their wealth to buy goodwill/influence/art.


an ex gf of mine says Musk is an alien and needs humans to help him develop tech to get back home.


Elon Musk did not start SpaceX, Tesla or any of the other companies.


He did start SpaceX, not Tesla.


> Also Tesla seems to be extremely focused on r&d.

How so? Tesla spends a tiny bit of revenue on R&D and a solid chunk of that is on "research" grants that get converted to manufacturing grants (e.g. the NY plant).

See: https://ir.tesla.com/static-files/bbc6e137-897a-4543-857a-59...

Don't get me wrong, I guess there could be research spending elsewhere since Tesla is notoriously bad at financial reporting (e.g. the only company in history to double its factory count without increasing OpEx, or the only company in history to build a factory with zero CapEx spending), but I'm curious what the "extremely focused" claim is backed by.


You only do new things if you believe you will fail if you don't.

Established companies have an expectation of success if they just keep doing what they are doing, so anything new is an unacceptable risk.


At the same time "startups" are also not able to reach any of the tangible results musk is producing.

He seems to be able to benefit from the resources of a big company, while at the same time keep the fresh mindset of a relatively small company.


He has a goal he wants to accomplish with this company, and unlike almost anyone else, his goal isn't to enrich himself and spend it on luxuries. He really wants people to colonize space.

An actual non-monetary goal is what's missing, IMO, for most companies.


It's about having any specific goal, really.

Money is more of a general goal, like happiness. Hard to stay focused.


I think of it like this. It requires massive amounts of money to do the types of things we are talking about, but when the other big players have gotten so used to suckling at the teet of the military industrial complex and it's wars, and comfortable in that utterly corrupt cycle, Musk was a man with a narrow focus to "get shit done" much more than "line the C's and boards pockets" .


Imagine this started when Musk wanted to send seeds to Mars.


All true, however, (splitting hairs, yes), the reason FH9 can best the shuttle boosters is because they had to carry the shuttle itself, which was around 50 tons.


Turns out it is a lot more useful to (potentially) reuse the first stage than to carry a lot of additional weight to reuse the last stage.


Well, but the Shuttle SRBs were reusable.

The only non-reusable part was the external fuel tank.

But yeah, sending something as big as a bus up and down was probably the bane of it.


If you call rebuilding an engine every time reusable. SRBs and reusable do not go together at all.


> Well, but the Shuttle SRBs were reusable.

But to use them again a lot of efforts had to be spent, comparing to what's possible with first stages of F9. That's why Shuttle boosters are called refurbishable.


I wonder, as a percentage of launch vehicle, how much mass the shuttle program managed to reuse after a mission vs. the F9Heavy?

It turns out not having to "shuttle" half a dozen humans up to orbit every time you want to get something up there is a good idea.


Its cheap light and easy to haul a half dozen humans home in a capsule, but its complicated and heavy to haul down immensely heavy satellites with a decent cross range such that you could land next orbit on friendly territory at all times.

Remember the shuttle "had to" be all things to all people, and the military demands ended up being VERY heavy and expensive.

At this time AFAIK nobody has the technical ability to snatch a Soviet spy sat and take it home, or haul strange and heavy (many ton) electronic warfare payloads over a target and land next orbit on NATO turf. Now, WHY you'd want to, or SHOULD you want to, are outside the bounds of this discussion, but the shuttle certainly had that kind of military stuff as a very expensive and very heavy design req.


Was the full crew necessarily just to put things in orbit? My impression was that most of the crew was doing other sorts of science and such because they might as well do so while the Shuttle's out in space (and later to get as many people into the ISS as possible per trip, which the Crew Falcon should now be able to do - maybe not to the same degree as the Shuttle, but certainly to a better degree than Soyuz).


Most shuttle missions had 5-7 crew members. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Space_Shuttle_crews

At minimum, each mission had a commander and pilot. Then there were missions specialists and payload specialists, which depended on the specific mission the shuttle was carrying out.

There's always a lot of work to do, so it makes sense that they'd maximize for productivity.


There was an article floating recently about the death of corporate R&D .. SpaceX might be one exception (or maybe first of a new wave ?)


>> We now have the capability to put up another ISS today, resupply it, and staff it, at a fraction of the cost,

Capacity to put mass into low orbit, but building a multipart space station requires far more than cobbling modules together KSP-style. Shuttle and the Canadarm(s) built the space station. SpaceX doesn't have that construction/manipulation capacity. It doesn't have the spacewalk capacity. To match Shuttle and build another ISS SpaceX would need to send people and cargo on the same flight, something that is certainly physically possible but remains logistically complex. NASA doesn't spend millions training astronauts in that giant swimming pool because they like the water.


You can try docking yourself at https://iss-sim.spacex.com


Took me 3 tries to do it; my bad was not carefully reading the instructions.


First three times I tried doing it by eye and ended up hopelessly lost. Needed to pull out my trigonometry to figure out how to line up the capsule to get the Y/Z aligned...


I got it on the first try, but only because I've got 600+ hours of Kerbal Space Program under my belt (where docking is much harder when you consider that docking in KSP entails actually getting to the target and doing it with imbalanced RCS thrusters that I placed on the craft willy-nilly; SpaceX's online docking sim was a breeze in comparison).

Trick was to get rotation aligned first, then worry about translation. And yeah, might as well ignore visual; just went by the numbers.


I had a terrible first attempt. Then discovered the same procedure, sort the rotation to 0, then minimise the translation and finally approach the dock. Head down And concentrate on the numbers. I didn’t have the KSP experience to fall back on. I wish they had added a timer as I am now trying for my fastest time.


Yeah, the live stream mentioned the ability to switch between coarse and fine controls, and that ability would be invaluable for a speed run.


You can do that by clicking in the middle of the controls.


Well shit. That would've been useful to know. Time for some speed-running!


If you do rotation then translation, you're either going to waste fuel or time. Just aim for the target and get within 20 meters before doing any of that, and the amount of translation you'll have to do is minimal. It's like traveling on the hypotenuse instead of the other two sides of a right triangle.


Rotating before translating should have little to no impact on fuel consumption. You still have to do the same amount of translation no matter how the craft is oriented. That means the same amount of energy, and thus the same amount of fuel. It took a little bit more time, but at the timeframes typical of orbital docking it's negligible.

In my first-try-success attempt, I was doing all translations at once, not something silly like lining up the numbers one at a time (that won't work well anyway, due to the differences in orbit between yourself and the docking target). That is: moving toward the ISS while simultaneously moving up/down and left/right to line up, and thus moving along the hypotenuse.

And by the way, this seems to be the exact approach Crew Dragon Endeavour took, judging by what I saw in the livestream early Sunday morning. They were already lined up rotationally before starting the final docking approach.


Yes, you're right. You can of course travel on the hypotenuse even if you're not oriented along it. I was probably stuck in some fixed front wheel thinking. I would think it's a lot easier to get the the proportion of lateral speed exactly right if you're aimed along the hypotenuse though.


True. Still, if you wanted to get really exact about it, you could surely work it out mathematically (i.e. by making sure your velocity components are proportional to your distance components).

So for example, with the simulator loaded up in a tab right now, after lining up the rotation, I'm seeing:

    X | 200.0 m
    Y | 12.0 m
    Z | 30.0 m
So if I then apply an X thrust of 20 m/s, Y thrust of 1.2 m/s, and Z thrust of 3.0 m/s, then I should travel along the hypotenuse and reach the docking port in 10 seconds. Likewise, a thrust of X=2,Y=0.12,Z=0.3 would get me there in 100 seconds (and X=200,Y=12,Z=30 would get me there in an insane single second). Of course, some corrections will be necessary along the way to account for small differences between my orbit and the target orbit (which is more relevant the longer it takes for you to get to the target), and the velocity change ain't instantaneous so I'll need to adjust for that, too (making 10s or 1s runs kinda implausible with the current interface, unless perhaps I do some kind of browser-level scripting to click the buttons and read the numbers).

Crucially, this makes it feasible for a computer to do automatically (though automated docking tends to stop shy of actually docking from what I understand, instead using CanadArm to grab the craft and put it on the dock).

You're right that aiming along the hypotenuse makes this a little bit easier to eyeball, but it also makes it a bit harder in other respects since now you'll have to adjust both rotation and translation along the way to stay along that slightly-curving hypotenuse.


Thta's an interesting point, and something I thought a lot about while I was doing this.

Basically, this simulator just cares about the physics of it, but not resources (Fuel, oxygen, etc).

I did it exactly that way, first rotation then translation. The 2nd fail it took me so long that in the 3rd (and successful) run I just hit the metal after getting the rotation correctly.

Side note, it's much easier to get the rotation right first and then moving the ship.

It was fun, thought.


There's a really simple strategy to this.

One at a time move pitch, yaw, and roll to zero (with 0 velocity). Before touching any translation buttons.

Never touch the pitch yaw and roll buttons again. Start moving x, y, and z translation to zero using transnational thrusters. Make sure you zero out y and z before you get close to zeroing out x.


And make sure you lower your closing rate before X gets to 0. (But yes, this is the strategy I used)


Using this strategy docking is much, much easier than trying to follow hexagons.


Am I kind of weird? Did it first time without reading anything just looking at numbers on the HUD. Maybe a bit of common sense?


Except that the real Dragon capsule has automated docking. The on-board computer does it.


I recall Elon was hoping to get an order of magnitude reduction in cost per launch, but Wikipedia claims it costs $160 million per launch versus the Soyuz price of $76 million per astronaut. That would “only” be a 3x reduction with a crew of seven, but they’ve configured for a crew of four, which is a hair under 2x.

I wonder how reuse affects the math, and what they’ll be able to do to lower those prices further. Obviously the optics on getting a domestic launch for half the price makes it an easy sale for Congress, but we were all hoping for more. An order of magnitude reduction might have gotten us 20x as many launches.


Wikipedia is either wrong or out of date but the ratios are slightly worse at 40% cheaper than Soyuz:

https://www.space.com/spacex-boeing-commercial-crew-seat-pri...

> NASA will likely pay about $90 million for each astronaut who flies aboard Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule on International Space Station (ISS) missions, the report estimated. The per-seat cost for SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, meanwhile, will be around $55 million, according to the OIG's calculations.

> To put those costs into perspective: NASA currently pays about $86 million for each seat aboard Russia's three-person Soyuz spacecraft, which has been astronauts' only ride to and from the ISS since NASA's space shuttle fleet was grounded in July 2011.


Per this interview in 2012:

“There were times when I thought he was off his rocker,” Mueller confesses. “When I first met him, he said, ‘How much do you think we can get the cost of an engine down, compared to what you were predicting they’d cost at TRW?’ I said, ‘Oh, probably a factor of three.’ He said, ‘We need a factor of 10.’ I thought, ‘That’s kind of crazy.’ But in the end, we’re closer to his number!

https://www.airspacemag.com/space/is-spacex-changing-the-roc...

This is in response to the engine. Maybe they got the engine price 10x cheaper, but the other components not so much?


I’m guessing the current price has to pay for a whole new rocket, as NASA probably won’t use a used (“flight-proven”) one for humans.

Eventually I expect used ones to be not only cheaper, but also more reliable. Like for (water)ships - they say “it’s new after you’ve owned it for a year”, the implication being that you spend the first year discovering and fixing manufacturing defects.


What happens to the rockets after they're flown for a single mission? Do they belong to SpaceX for later re-use in commercial cargo missions, or does NASA own them?


NASA pays for the mission, transport XY amount of tonnage to the ISS. The rocket remains owned by SpaceX. In majority of situations, owning a rocket means little as it cannot be reused. Also very few customers have the means to "run" a rocket, NASA fits the bill and it's conceivable NASA could buy a F9 and use it after quite a bit of training, but this makes little sense for them and little sense for SpaceX.


I think I'm picking up from context (aka reading between the lines) that the optics of NASA using a refurbished rocket - and it failing - is not good, so let SpaceX do what they want.

Recall that a lot of aerospace budget from the US is defense spending dressed up as something else. Similar to the way the original space race was a proxy war for a proxy war: If you can fly people into space you can fly an ICBM to Moscow/Washington DC.


If they filled the dragon to its capacity of 7 it would be closer. I believe hearing that NASA will only use up to 4 seats.


It would be interesting if they made a seven person variant to serve as the long overdue lifeboat on ISS.


Worth noting that Dragon also carries tons of cargo, whereas the Soyuz “sticker price” is for just a seat.


NASA has also so far insisted on only flying on new (unflown) boosters and only using freshly built Crew Dragon capsules. Both of those are able to refly multiple times, reducing costs further, once their reliability is sufficiently proven for NASA certification standards.


The agreed to reuse human capsules for cargo missions. No people at all.


> Dragon also carries tons of cargo

Does it? I seem to remember reading somewhere that the "trunk" section will be mostly empty on crewed vehicles.

It makes sense. We've seen that Dragon aborts with the trunk attached for aerodynamic reasons. It seems likely that hauling a bunch of cargo together with an escaping crewed capsule isn't feasible.

You could also see that during the Demo-2 launch stream when the Dragon separated from the upper stage. There was a short segment where camera from the stage showed the underside of the Dragon and you could see that it was mostly just empty space inside.


The color commentary yesterday suggested that a bit of cargo could be where the other 3 passengers should be, so he might be right.


During an abort they would dump the service module, which is where the unpressurised cargo is stored.


I think you might be confusing price and cost.

What NASA pays doesn’t necessarily reflect the cost since we do not know the margins.

However, I do agree that it’s valuable to be skeptical of unproven claims regarding cost reduction, though most of what we say is that we do not know much about the current real cost.


I have a suspicion that the discrepancy between the two prices I found is that one has the margins built in and the other is a guess at what it actually costs the vendor.


That's the cost for NASA. It's the price that SpaceX charges.

There's a massive margin on that price, which allows them to fund their other developments such as the Starlink and Starship.


Could not find back the values. By memory (USD/kg), Soyuz is 20k, (futur launcher) ESA 5k or 8k, and SpaceX 2K. (Can someone confirm?)

Whatever the values, what are interesting are the magnitudes.


I would be interested to see the quote. Was he hoping for a 10-fold drop right off the bat for the first mission or rather for that drop "à un moment donné". I imagine the costs will continue to go down with time for the base model as things become more reusable, R&D costs drop, and more business comes their way.


If memory serves, that 10x isn't even really his number, but one borrowed from the enthusiast community. So not only was that number aspirational, but it was also a nod to a bunch of people who are essentially all talk and no action.

Also I found that if you fly on a refurb unit you get a 30% reduction in price, so a budget flier is looking at a 3x improvement in cost, which is quite a lot closer to the goal multiple.

If those numbers are profitable for SpaceX, and not fiction, then hopefully they have enough revenue to fund iterations that improve on what they already have.


"à madné."


Well, we don't know what it costs SpaceX to do these launches. We only know what NASA pays.

SpaceX could have very nice margins.


While Soyuz is nowhere close to the cost of a crew dragon , It does not cost that much for Soyuz either , Russians are charging that much because they could and they also want their margins .

Ultimately it only matters what NASA pays , i.e. how much of the cost savings benefits the taxpayer and how NASA is using that savings


I read once that a lot of the cost NASA pays per astronaut is there to manage the overhead of all the bureaucratic stuff and extra regulations required for sending a NASA astronaut up. I believe that it is (/ will be) cheaper per seat for citizen space tourists.


From NASA's Mission Updates:

> The Crew Dragon arrived at the station’s Harmony port, docking at 10:16 a.m. EDT while the spacecraft were flying about 262 miles above the northern border of China and Mongolia.

It's hard for me to wrap my brain around this. They seem so far away but 262 miles above earth is about the distance from NYC to DC which doesn't seem far at all.


There is a fantastic what if that talks about this.

https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/


You’re right. That was fantastic. Hadn’t seen that one before. Thank you.


SpaceX Live Stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIZsnKGV8TE

Docking begins to occur around 3:10PM GMT in the video. This link may send you to that point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIZsnKGV8TE&t=695m0s

Is there an easy way to link to a specific time in live videos? I had to manually play around with the time to find the right point.


They mentioned something about the suit pressure for one of them being lower than expected and asked them to check for "white teeth" on 3 zippers, which they reported seeing on all 3. Can anyone explain what that is?


They did a leak check and one of their suits wasn't 100% sealed so it had a lower pressure differential to the capsule during their tests meaning there was a seal that wasn't completely sealed. The teeth thing is that they use different colored teeth on zippers so they can see visually when they've closed the zipper fully. They said it was still within the margin of keeping them protected during an emergency though.


If the suits are pressurized more than the environment, escaping gasses often cause moisture or frost to form at the point of escape due to differential cooling condenstion. Could that be what they were seeing?


Sounds like when the zippers are fully closed the white teeth of the zipper should be covered by the seal around the zipper. If any teeth are visible the seal is not complete.


Or perhaps the seal is behind the zipper and high contrast.


I thought maybe they put some sort of chemistry into the zipper to detect gasses and change colors, but I can’t get google to cooperate. And what gas in the suit isn’t already in the cabin?


Currently they have problems with the voice between ISS and Dragon. There is a huge interference and they can't read it. Funny enough we the viewers hear it loud and clear


They were trying to get the 'Hard wire' link working - which is the direct cable link between the ISS and Dragon. What we were all hearing, was the 'Big Loop' which is comms via Mission Control, SpaceX, Dragon, and the ISS - which carries a couple of seconds delay.

What got me, was that the whole boarding process was held up for over 30 minutes, because NASA couldn't progress past their 'hard wire' item on their checklist.

They eventually switched to RF (radio) direct link between the ISS and Dragon to be able to progress past that checklist item - later on the hard wire audio was fixed and working.


I'm sure an easy workaround would be to use Houston as a relay rather than direct communication.


Yep that's what they are doing now


I thought they already could communicate on wireless bands? No need for relay... They wanted to have a "wired" communication set up correctly IIUC.


Am I the only one who can hear the Blue Danube Waltz just thinking about Dragon docking at the ISS?

https://youtu.be/0ZoSYsNADtY?t=210


So when seeing this I had two questions, one of which I've found the answer to, one of which still remains a mystery.

1. Why only two astronauts? and

2. How much is Crew Dragon costing?

For (1), it's stated [1] that Crew Dragon has a capacity of seven astronauts but only 4 for NASA? How does that work? Does that mean the NASA configuration only has 4 seats? I found this [2] saying seats 1 and 4 were empty.

Why not 4 astronauts? The answer seems to be that this is technically a test flight (Crew Demo-2). Passing this will fully certify Dragon. I guess it's better to risk 2 astronauts than 4. It probably also depends how many people you want to have on the ISS.

As for (2), I found this [3], which states the cost at $55m per astronaut. This seems... high? A full complement of 4 would cost $210m. Falcon 9 launches cost a fraction of that. Even Falcon Heavy is ~$90m.

For some reason I thought SpaceX was enabling sending up 7 astronauts for <$100m.

Compared to Soyuz [4], which cost NASA $80m/astronaut, that's a saving but not as much as I would've thought.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_2

[2]: https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew/2020/05/30/all-aboard-...

[3]: https://www.space.com/spacex-boeing-commercial-crew-seat-pri...

[4]: https://www.wired.com/story/spacex-launched-two-astronauts-c...


Edited - wrong number of seats for the next mission.

NASA asked SpaceX to change the configuration of the capsule to only support 4 astronauts for two reasons. The first is that they wanted a more mellow Load profile on the passengers in the case of a high-altitude (almost orbit) abort, so they wanted the seats in a different position. The first design had the seats fixed, and the screen pivoting down above them. This design has the seats pivoting, and the screen fixed. It also drops the maximum crew from 7 to 4. I’m not sure if SpaceX will use the larger configuration for their own private configurations.

The other reason is that seven is a lot, and NASA doesn’t plan on sending that many up on a single mission.

Seats 1 and four are empty on this mission. For future missions that only have three they will remove the extra seat. That said, the capsule seems amazingly spacious, for being a capsule.

As far as costing, the contract was written similar to how NASA pays the Russians (though that number is upwards of 87 million per seat right now). SpaceX itself owns the rockets and the spacecraft - not NASA. Think of it as a airline seat.

Finally, the vast majority of cost at this point are not the hardware - but rather the cost of complying with NASA’s testing. Everyone was assuming that NASA would do what they did with commercial cargo, and simply expect the cargo to show up with a minimal number of design reviews. With commercial crew, NASA took a much more proactive approach which led to a complete redesign of the capsule (SpaceX’s original plan was simply to reuse cargo), plus many many many design reviews.

Finally SpaceX has full pricing control right now. SpaceX is running some pretty massive margins (from what I have heard) on everything - but they are flushing all of that money into the goal of getting starship and spaceship and their insane next generation engine up, as well as starlink. They have deliberately only lowered their costs below their competitors, soaking margin for a while.


Crew-1 is flying four astronauts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCV-1


They're also able to bring a decent amount of cargo with them with only the four seats.


>Why not 4 astronauts?

You've been in the teamwork game a long time, right? You know that each new team member added to a team does something like double or quadruple communication overhead. They're trying to work out the kinks - they're going to with a small team of experienced people to stay focused.

There's probably also a limit to how many people they want to keep track of on ISS, like you said. It's also less risky like you said - you need two people in case one gets incapacitated, and also for psychological support, but you don't want to risk any more people on the maiden voyage than you have to.

>Compared to Soyuz [4], which cost NASA $80m/astronaut, that's a saving but not as much as I would've thought.

There's more to it than costs. We now have the agency to launch as many astronauts as we want, when we want, rather than filling in a vacant seat the Russians have. Something not considered in just costs is we can also charge other nations for rides on our rockets, and as long as it's less than $80m, we'll make profits and it'll be a win for those nations who'd normally ride on Soyuz.


Reduces risk for the first flight


Minimum number of astronauts in case of disaster


Yeah the per astronaut cost will still keep human spaceflight an R&D and tourism project. I, for one, was hoping we would get to see some things being done in space that are currently too expensive on earth (like superclean vacuums) or need microgravity.


Watching now.. they were unable to get the "hard line" voice working. VOIP?


Considering how long the ISS has been up there, it could be POTS or something similarly-analog. Dragon→ISS was clear, but ISS→Dragon was not, making me think that maybe there's some wire or connector in the latter direction that's shoddy (and that'd be more common for analog/POTS than digital/VOIP, where such garbling would be bidirectional and/or nothing would be heard on either end).

Then again, I ain't exactly a space telecom engineer, so what do I know? ;)

They've since switched back to RF, so apparently it ain't the end of the world.


Makes sense. They just fixed the hard line


Was that the hardline or did they reroute through RF and/or "Big Loop"? I heard the loud and clear (and earlier about the cameras possibly interfering) but missed if that loud and clear was through the hardline.


Sorry dont know. Did hear mention of big loop


Probably a comm channel in the umbilical, kinda 'landline'. I'd assume the radio comm should be operational.


Did Doug bump his head on the way in?


Came here hoping to find an answer to this. It looked like it was bothering him quite a bit


Apparently, space is hard...


Station hatches sure as hell are. Looks like it happened during the hug session, while still mostly inside the hatch.


Yes. I noticed that too. Seems like he bumped his head hard. It was quite red.

And whats up with the guy with baseball bat while taking photo? Is that normal?


Definitely not normal.


“flew exactly like the simulators”


They did complain about the thermal camera cutting out as the thrusters fired in real life and not in the simulator at one point. Was that fixed in the later test?


I thought what I heard is that the thermal cameras did cut out even in the sim, but that on-ship they cut out differently. My assumption is that this is something that gets fixed on the ground.


What's with the gradient shadow? The space station shadow crossed the module, and it was blurry. I thought shadows in space were knife-sharp. The nose-cone shadow was.

Its not the stream resolution, is it? Other knife-sharp features were visible.

Maybe the space station is fuzzy? Maybe the module material blurs shadows? What am I missing?


Shadows in space aren't, in general, any sharper than on Earth. The "penumbra" of a shadow -- the blurry, partially-shaded region -- is basically a simple geometric effect, caused by the light source being partially obscured. The penumbra's size is approximately equal to the product of the light source's angular size and the distance from the shadow-casting object to the illuminated surface. (Diffraction has some effect as well, but only on very small scales that aren't particularly relevant here.)

The sun has almost exactly the same apparent angular size from either Earth's surface or LEO, because it's almost exactly the same distance away. But since that angular size is only about half a degree, shadows observed at short distances appear fairly sharp, either on Earth or in space.

What you may be thinking of is that, in many cases, shadows are darker in space, because the sky is dark, even in broad daylight. There's no atmospheric scattering to provide indirect, ambient illumination of regions that are shaded from direct sunlight. But there can still be indirect lighting from other surfaces.

For example, in photos of Apollo astronauts on the moon, shaded regions of the astronauts' spacesuits are still fairly-well illuminated by light bouncing off the lunar surface. But shadowed regions of the surface itself appear almost pitch-black, because the only thing they can "see" is the dark sky.


Where do you mean? If it's a shadow caused by the light of the Earth it will be very fuzzy due to the size of the light source. Even shadows from the sun will be fuzzy if the shadowing object isn't close to the shadowed surface, as the sun is no further away than on Earth, and hence much bigger than the point light source needed for perfectly sharp shadows.

If you mean the contrast between lit and shadowed areas, LEO is quite different from e.g. the moon, as even though it's out of the atmosphere, there's a lot of ambient light from the huge close Earth below.


Shadows are blurry unless the source is a point. The gradient is the part of the shadow where the source is partially occluded.


Light from the sun -> sharp shadows. Light from Earth -> blurry shadows.

That's because the sun is almost a 'point' light source because it's far away, and Earth is 'area' light source because it's close by. Also it depends how far the shadow source is from the shadow target.


shadows are not blurry because of atmosphere. It's because of non-point light sources. The sun is not a point, but a disc.


Hatch opening scheduled for approximately 12:30pm EDT

Edit: time slipping


We are a small step closer inhabiting Mars.

When we will, it will be the most important event in the five billion years history of our solar system. In other words, we are witnessing some pretty cool stuff.


Elon Musk will have cities on planets names after him for generations to come.

The legacy he leaves will be greater than that of Ghengis Kahn, Ceasar, or Alexander the Great.


Elonville, Musktown?


X Æ A-12-ville


I put like 90% liklihood we'll have a nation state named "Musk" on Mars in 50 years.


A nation in 50 years sounds like an Elon timescale. More likely a small settlement of <100 people for research and exploration.


If he manages to make humans multi-planet species he’ll be the greatest man who has ever lived.


Until someone else comes along :)


How does this get us closer to getting people to Mars?


SpaceX has now successfully launched humans into orbit and rendezvoused with an orbital station.

Of course, it’s a different vehicle than what they hope to one day take to Mars, but that’s still a huge step for any spacefaring organization to have made, especially when the stated overarching goal is to move huge numbers of people to a new planet.


Can’t tell if serious or troll.

Successful human spaceflight on reusable hardware > lower cost to orbit of personnel > increased economic activity in orbit > construction of manufacturing facilities > scale up of materials, capability, endurance and knowledge > ability to construct and launch Mars ships and supply a colony

Or something like that.


To add to this: Completing the demo mission unlocks a ton of funding through the commercial crew program, the profits of which SpaceX can reinvest in their other efforts.


The problem of getting to Mars is bigger than “just do more spacey stuff in space” though. There are some massive physical limits, in terms of fuel efficiency, that make it really really hard to get there and come back. That’s the main challenge and I don’t think SpaceX moved us particularly closer on that point.

I’m in my forties and I don’t expect to see us on Mars in my lifetime, except on some poetic suicide mission (nice sidestep of euthanasia laws: “I’m not dying, I’m going to Mars!”). We might make something a bit more useful out of the Moon, though, if we don’t screw up too much.


In case you’re wondering why I, and others, are downvoting you: it sounds like you don’t have an even basic understanding of the technical aspects of a Mars mission, yet are spouting off — seemingly very confidently — statements of feasibility. Your comment doesn’t add to the conversation, and is at complete odds with nearly universal scientific and engineering consensus. SpaceX is going through billions of dollars with explicit near-term goal of a Mars mission. Perhaps, next time, try asking questions, rather than throwing baseless assertions.


Why is coming back particularly challenging? Isn't it by definition easier because Mars is less massive than Earth? It seems like what you're talking about here is a different problem: getting enough resources and manpower to Mars to be able to bootstrap what's needed for return trips. But it seems like that is pretty inductive and just a matter of time once an economically sustainable one-way flow of people and goods opens up. (Knowledge, obviously, being instantly transferable already.) This will certainly be challenging and all but certain, and especially fragile to start, but it seems more in reach than ever before in my lifetime.


It's also worth mentioning that coming back isn't necessarily a fixed requirement. I would happily live a shorter live on Mars - with the risk overhead of being stranded in the event of a catastrophic failure - for the chance to be one of the first Martian settlers.

Foreign colonists in the Americas (ignoring any political aspect of this) faced disease, starvation and attacks from natives but still colonised America because of a dream they had.


Wasn't it more that trying things in [the continent of] America seemed more likely to yield success than staying with what they had where failure was relatively certain. Like religious persecution at home was certain for the Pilgrim Fathers, but in all likelihood they could form colonies where they could freely practice their religion by risking it in North America. For others it was abject poverty at home, or try carving out a piece of frontier.

Seems like colonising Mars is the other way around, we stand more chance of fulfilment on Earth and failure going to Mars?

Some of us have an explorational spirit, a desire to be pioneers at all costs - isn't that why we want to go? Maybe it's toxoplasmosis.


Not how things are going. Being able to eject oneself from the political and cultural norms of Earth is becoming more and more attractive concept. All of the technology and knowledge, but, potentially, with none of the baggage.

One critical junction will be how much the Mars colony can avoid the smuggling in of bad ideas and ideologies. If done well, this could result in a radical divergence between the cultures, and wealth, of the two planets.


Lower cost to orbit, sure. Increased economic activity in orbit? Where does that part come from?

It's not like we haven't sent people to the ISS before. And it's not like SpaceX hasn't managed to reuse hardware before. It's basically just a mix of those two things.

Really the most significant things about this were that astronauts were launched to space from the US and it was a private company. And out of those, the first thing is really more symbolic than anything else.

The ISS is about 400 km from the surface of the Earth. Mars is like what, 225 000 000 km?


> Lower cost to orbit, sure. Increased economic activity in orbit? Where does that part come from?

Lower cost to orbit translates pretty directly to increased economic activity in orbit, since said economic activity is less expensive to do (and therefore more accessible to more people).

But agreed. This ain't a huge achievement... yet. It's essential groundwork for that achievement, though.


Well we're not gonna get to Mars with that attitude!


Seems like that’s exactly the attitude you need.


Mars is key ! We must get to Mars!!!


I'm not so sold on the planetary backup drum beat. If we can live on Mars we can live on an Earth affected by basically anything using the same tech. The only real bonus is there'd be less people there to support, which feels like running away and letting the planet burn.


I admire the confidence and romance, I don’t know how you do it.


What’s the point of inhabiting Mars if it’s inhabited by a society no one would ever want to live in?


I was surprised they slept on the trip. I assume they took turns.


Not usually. They learned early on in the space program that in capsules, you don’t have enough sound isolation to make different sleep schedules work. My understanding is that they then plan on having the crew sleep at the same time.


No need, the burns are all scheduled and they can plan that to avoid doing anything while the crew is asleep.


Autopilot :)


Right? It’s basically a Tesla.


Yeah. Except autopilot is easier in space than on the road, because it doesn't have to take into account the multitudes of vehicles (and pedestrians) without an autopilot, just zooming around.


I mean, not yet. Someday, though...


Why is it such a big deal this time? Don't the Russians fly to ISS all the time?


Few reasons, it's been 9 years since the last crewed spacecraft took off from American soil.

Second reason is this is the first time the spacecraft has been built and run by a commercial company (spacex)


For me (as a European) it is mainly exceptional because of the SpaceX effort. It just appeared to me as if it was something America was proud of, because they invented space flight or something, which they didn't. It's just never "celebrated" anywhere when the Russians fly to space over and over.


America is proud because SpaceX is an American company that has made this possible while being commercially viable.

It's a testament to American capitalism. It's something to be very proud of.

It's the next step in the space age. This paves the way for many more companies and ventures.


It's an awesome example of american capitalism giving us back the ability to put people in space. It's the first steps to true commercialization of spaceflight, with travel driven by tourism, colonization, resource extraction, amd R&D, which is a much more sustainable way to maintain space exploration. And probably most importantly, everything else sucks right now. Coronavirus, widespread protests and race riots. We need a win, and this is a pretty solid one.


It's a capability NASA lost and is not close to achieving, it's a feel good story for USA, it's a really nice thing to improve competition in crewed launch space allowing NASA to go further with bigger missions (Moon and Mars).


Feel good story nails it imo. Not just for the US, for the "West" it seems...


Yes, it seems they do - I assume that the fact all other countries relied on Russia for the last decade to ferry astronauts and cosmonauts to ISS doesn't fit with the narrative of them being the sworn enemy of the West?


Yup, exactly my thoughts...


Do we have a link to rewatch both the launch and the docking?


Unbelievable what Elon Musk has been able to create for humanity. So grateful for him and this administration. Looking forward to see more free market ingenuity


Free market doesn't seem correct here since the government is the customer.


Govt is 100% funded from the free market


> In a free market, the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government or other authority and from all forms of economic privilege, monopolies and artificial scarcities

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_market


Very impressive - only sixty years after the Communists put a man into space, the private sector has managed to catch up.


How much AI/ML do you think is running on the software associated with this launch and docking? I suspect there’s a great deal of very explicit, well tested code, but very little AI/ML.


Very little in terms of what you would consider AI or ML. It's a lot of trig and control theory. You do a lot of the math beforehand to figure out the script the craft will follow to reach the ISS. Once it gets close, you either use manual controls or let autopilot do the docking. The autopilot is basically looking some dots on a camera and firing the thrusters to make the dots line up right. It's more like a dumb PID controller than an AI. The autopilot isn't learning anything or somehow making connections that weren't already programmed. This is all stuff NASA figured out how to do in the 60s so it's nothing novel except for the mission and the hardware the math is done on.


Dragon is using a flash LIDAR made by Advanced Scientific Concepts.[1][2] 128x128 pixels.

The Russians used a KURS unit, which is a cooperative (the ISS has a transponder to talk to it) radar-based system. That was from Ukraine, and after going to war with Ukraine, Russia had to develop an in-house system.

All of this stuff is older technology, predating machine learning.

[1] https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/201400...

[2] http://advancedscientificconcepts.com/products/older-product...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurs_(docking_navigation_syste...


Just like regular autopilot on the ground, the AI/ML is really just in the image / signal recognition. After that it’s mostly control law (rules based system, and force calculations0.


What you wrote is what I would have guessed. Are you also guessing or do you know for sure? It sounds right, but I'm very curious about the actual answer to this question.


No one is putting non deterministic code anywhere near one of the most expensive objects ever produced


I don't work in the industry, but I have the training, and can confirm what he said. No AI or ML. We use a combination of closed-form solutions and deterministic numerical analyses. There is no actual need for AI or ML in this problem domain, outside of perhaps the design phase. Sometimes dynamic programming and some ML techniques are used when, I dunno, figuring out the best configuration for an antenna or profile of a nozzle. But flight dynamics and control do not need AI, as the physics are well-understood.


I would guess none. Maybe some in testing/simulations, but I highly doubt there is any ML doing actual flight control.


I agree (having no actual knowledge). What would be the benefit?


I am so excited by this achievement, and offer hearty congratulations to SpaceX and NASA.

That said, I think that everyone anticipating a dramatic reduction in orbital cost needs to temper their enthusiasm a bit. UAL was expensive, as many other have previously noted, because it was a political jobs program. The existence of UAL gave the necessary cover for Musk & Co to envision radically more efficient designs.

However, that was then. As SpaceX continues to succeed, it will be harder to justify continued funding of UAL at the previous levels. Costs will be cut. People will cheer. And then, a well-meaning congressperson or two (with their eye on re-election) will introduce a rider onto the next funding bill: "Yes we want these great launch capabilities, but at least $1B must be spent within the state of Alabama" (or whatever).

This will work for a little while, but then more members of congress will jump on the gravy train. In order for SpaceX to maintain their launch contracts they will need to perform more and more work in distributed places. This will result in reduced organizational efficiency and increased launch cost.

The big opportunity here is commercial launch. If SpaceX can grow their civilian and international order book enough, they become less beholden to the US Govt and can push back on make-work contract requirements. But if not... I await their inevitable induction into UAL v2.


I think your last paragraph is the most likely. SpaceX will simply not accept a government contract that works against their interests since they are a private entity. If starlink pans out, government contracts won't be such an important source of revenue long term.


I think you mean ULA? And yes the plan is commercial launch. NASA is one customer of many and spacex is one supplier of many. NASA's been pretty explicit about not wanting to be the primary customer of rockets, and that they want a robust ecosystem of commercial and sovereign interests making up the market. And spacex has it's own plans for providing internet etc. It's pretty explicitly viewed as a failure of this program by NASA if space is not successfully commercialized and if nasa maintains its dominance as a purchaser of launch contracts.


SpaceX exists to make StarLink possible, and would exist whether Congress threw money SpaceX's way or not. That makes SpaceX fairly independent.




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