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Persistence and changes in the plans for SpaceX / SurprizingFacts

Last week, Ilon Mask spoke at the ISS R & D conference (Research and Development at the International Space Station). In more than an hour's conversation, he, answering questions, talked about the various directions of SpaceX's space activities. Some plans remained unchanged, but there were some curious news in the speech.


Source: public "Saturns felling"

Number of launches
In plans for 2017, another "dozen" launches are to be made. Since the last two years SpaceX has been forced to take breaks because of accidents, it is still interesting how successfully they are able to scale their production capabilities, and how many launches they will be able to hold in 2017. In the list of plans for 2017 for the past two weeks the amount has already decreased From 25 to 24, and in fact in January for this year was planned in the region of 30 starts. Another "about a dozen" looks like a quite realizable number, because in the past six months the company produced 10 starts, while in January and February the launch activity was very low.

Inter-flight service
Mask confirmed plans to bring the terms of inter-flight services of the first stage to 24 hours by early 2018. This is not news and has been voiced many times, but the importance here is difficult to underestimate – it is the cost, labor and time spent on interpreting services that determine the competitiveness of the reusable system. At the end of the year there should appear a version of Falcon 9 Block 5, the changes in which, apart from a small increase in the thrust of the engines, will be aimed specifically at reducing the cost and simplifying the inter-flight service. Even if in the end preparation for the flight will take not a day but a week (Mask is widely known for excessive optimism in relation to the capabilities of his companies), it will still be a serious achievement.

Rescue of the fairing
According to Mask, the head fairing costs $ 5-6 million. This is somewhat unusual, considering that the cost of launching the Falcon 9 is estimated at $ 62 million, the second stage costs "about 20% of the mission", i.е. 12.4 million, and the head fairing is a relatively simple detail. In the spring of this year, one half of the fairing was already installed on the water, which, however, is unlikely to be used again because of the impact of water. Other sources mentioned the design, which was jokingly called a "lock – inflatable trampoline" for a soft landing of the fairing, and it will be interesting to see how this will look like in the end. The announced terms – saving the fairing at the end of the year, reuse, perhaps next year.

Reuse of the second stage
At least for some missions, it will be possible to save and reuse the second stage, but this is not a distant future, because the main work in SpaceX is now being conducted on the manned Dragon 2. Considering that the second stage at the time of separation from the payload is in the same orbit , The task as a whole is complicated. To allocate the rest of the fuel for braking in ~ 100 m / s to descend from the orbit is relatively easy, but the steps will require heat protection in order to survive the descent in the atmosphere. To brake the same for ~ 4-6 km / s, so that heat protection is not needed, will require a huge fuel reserve.

Reuse of cargo Dragon
According to SpaceX calculations, the repeated flight of the cargo "Dragon" cost almost as much as the launch of the new one. Mask believes that he could be even more expensive, because some expenses could not be taken into account. But for the future Ilon remains optimistic and is confident that subsequent repeated flights will cost much less, up to 50% of the new one. According to other sources, the next mission of CRS-12 will fly a new ship, but it was also said that the production of new "Dragons" of the first version was stopped, and starting from CRS-13, already launched ships will be launched.

Launch Falcon Heavy
Mask tried in every possible way to emphasize the complexity of the first flight Falcon Heavy. He even said that he would consider the mission successful if the rocket fell far enough not to damage the launch complex. Alas, despite the image created all these years, they say, there is nothing easier than to take three identical steps, collect them together and launch, the reality turned out completely opposite. 27 engines create a tripled vibration load, the central unit is completely different forces, changing the aerodynamic load. And not everything in such conditions can be tested in advance on the ground. Mask noted that the central unit had to be reworked so that it could withstand the changed and increased loads. On the side blocks put a separation system, and before a real flight can not fully calculate how they will be separated. The area of ​​maximum high-speed head (Max-Q) will also be a big challenge for the new design. Ilon said that the first launch would be a wonderful sight, and here he is absolutely right, regardless of the success of the flight.

Interplanetary Transport System
The reusable interplanetary transport system, whose oddities were evident in the first few moments after the presentation in the fall of 2016, will decrease in size to make money on the near-Earth orders. This decision is welcome, because the original version looked huge untruth. It will be amusing, but it is not at all surprising if, as a result, ITS decreases every ten times from the originally announced load capacity of 500 tons into a low orbit and will carry satellites that distribute the Internet with bundles. Even if their number in reality is reduced to a thousand, instead of twelve thousand according to today's plans, there will be work for such a missile.

Changes in the landing system of Dragon 2
The biggest news was the official confirmation that in the manned version of Dragon 2 there will be no reactive landing. On the initial rollers the ship pushed the landing poles and sat on the engines, but for a long time there were rumors that such an unusual way of landing would be replaced by more familiar parachutes. Mask spoke in the sense that the ship can sit like this, but they do not want to spend resources on convincing in this NASA, and, besides, he revised the concept of landing vehicles on Mars. The fact is that the manned Dragon 2 was connected to the Martian version of the Red Dragon, and both ships had to land on the engines. The beautiful idea of ​​using the same engines as a rescue system and landing engines for the Earth and Mars initially looked utopian due to the difference in conditions. For example, the equilibrium speed to which the ship is braked by the atmosphere, Mars is about three times higher than the earth's, and if for the Earth it is necessary to extinguish about 300 m / s, for Mars this value is about kilometer per second.

Each way of landing a spacecraft has its advantages and disadvantages. Rocket engines make it possible to make an accurate landing, which makes the search and evacuation problem much easier, but since the engines are switched on for the last dozens of meters, they can not be insured for example by parachutes in case of a failure. And parachute systems, with all the disadvantages of low landing accuracy and the need to catch a ship from the sea or to search in the steppe, are mastered, very reliable and have backup systems in the event of an accident. So, although it would be interesting to see the Dragon 2 landing, this is not so bad news, as it might seem.

Also, as Mask said he no longer likes the way to land on Mars the Red Dragon (Heat shield and engines on the sides), it is obvious that instead of the Red Dragon there will be some other apparatus. For some it may be unpleasant news, but, for example, the combined method of landing (parachutes and engines) combines the merits of different designs, is familiar and successfully allowed to plant large devices on Mars.

New direction: Moon
Surprisingly, for the first time Mask lowered the intensity of the aspirations for Mars, saying that the base on the Moon would be a logical step before the flight of people to the red planet. It is known that, for example, the current director of the European Space Agency considers the moon more promising, and more recently at NASA they presented the idea of ​​Deep Space Gateway – a visited station in the lunar orbit. Perhaps we are seeing a big turn in the response to the disputes that have been going on for many years – the Moon or Mars will be the next target for humanity.

Conclusion
The answers to the last questions, even if they broke someone's dreams, I personally liked. There is a feeling that Mask began to communicate more with engineers and, finally, realized the complexity of space technology. I would like to hope that in the future we will see less over-optimistic terms and unrealistically beautiful computer graphics, which will be compensated with a reduction in news about the next transfer of the long-awaited mission.

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