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SpaceX's Dragon at the ISS  (Source:
Dragon is expected to return near the end of October

SpaceX is about to take another historical step for the private sector: its Dragon capsule will carry a load of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) on its first official mission.

SpaceX's Dragon made its first trip to the ISS back in May of this year as a test run. All went well, with the Dragon successfully docking at the ISS and then splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.

Thanks to that successful run, SpaceX can now move forward with its very first official mission. The Dragon capsule will carry 1,000 pounds of supplies to the ISS on October 7, and plans to reach the orbiting station on October 10.

Dragon will then spend a few weeks connected to the ISS while astronauts unload the supplies. They will then reload the Dragon with another 734 pounds of scientific supplies and 504 pounds of space station hardware to return to Earth. The plan is to send Dragon home near the end of October.

SpaceX currently has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 unmanned flights to the ISS.

Throughout 2011, NASA retired its remaining three shuttles in its space shuttle fleet: Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis. By July 2011, all three had completed their final missions and ended an era of American space flight to the ISS. American astronauts were then forced to depend on the Russian Soyuz rockets to take supplies to the ISS, but increasing costs for a seat on these rockets pushed the U.S. to find another route.

NASA looked to the private sector to fill its shoes, and SpaceX was a superb candidate with its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX showed the world what the private space sector was made of in May 2012 when the Dragon made a successful maiden flight to the ISS.


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$1.6B for 12 trips
By chmilz on 9/21/12, Rating: 0
RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By Real_Time on 9/21/2012 9:33:25 PM , Rating: 5
$133M a pop. Doesn't Russia do it for $60M?

Russia will fly missions for $60M per person. Payloads are extra.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By starcrusade on 9/22/2012 12:52:34 AM , Rating: 2
Just to elaborate, NASA lists the $60M as one astronaut with 110lb of baggage. The dragon capsule will take up to 7 astronauts, that's 19M each and I'm guessing they get to take a lot more weight with them.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By wwwcd on 9/22/2012 3:51:45 AM , Rating: 1
Yes but Soyuz carried triple and more other loads, and Russia through robotic ship "Progress" made ??supporting with supplies that are prohibitive for American ratty fly :D

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By funguseater on 9/22/2012 6:26:40 PM , Rating: 4
Yeah but with recent Russian space failures you couldn't pay me to sit on a Russian bomb/rocket.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By aurareturn on 9/21/2012 10:33:48 PM , Rating: 3
NASA is part of the government. So how much does the Government really save by sending $60 million to Russia whenever they need to go to space? At least the $133 million are mostly staying here.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By martin5000 on 9/23/12, Rating: 0
RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By martin5000 on 9/23/2012 1:58:28 PM , Rating: 2
Just to expand; If you start penalising foreign companies, then foreign governments will do the same to you, and everyone is worse off.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By Flunk on 9/24/2012 11:56:58 AM , Rating: 2
When was the last time you heard Obama evangelizing a totally "free market" economy?

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By martin5000 on 9/25/2012 6:57:30 AM , Rating: 2
Don't care about Obama.

Point is the free-er the market the better, right?

Americans hate socialism, except when they are the ones to benefit from it (hence massive national debt).

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By Solandri on 9/23/2012 4:55:34 AM , Rating: 2
Assuming the wikipedia page is correct:

Dragon has a 13,228 lb payload capacity. At $133M a pop, that's $10,050 per lb of payload. That's actually fairly expensive. The Shuttle (with all its life support systems and reentry/landing mechanisms) cost a bit over $10,000 per lb of payload.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle (used to launch Dragon) currently costs $2350 per lb of payload ($54 million for 23,000 lbs of payload, though obviously Dragon does not currently take full advantage of that capacity, and payload to the ISS is a bit lower since it's higher than LEO). So there's a huge margin built into that $1.6 billion contract, presumably to subsidize R&D at SpaceX. Though from NASA's perspective, it's about the same cost to resupply the ISS as using the Shuttle. SpaceX officials say they believe $500/lb is achievable. So hopefully we'll see costs plummet as the years go by.

For comparison, Soyuz costs about $2200/lb of payload to LEO.

An Atlas V about $2500/lb
An Ariane V is about $3000/lb
A Delta II is about $4400/lb (the smaller launch vehicles cost more per lb of payload)

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By Bubbacub on 9/23/2012 6:19:35 AM , Rating: 4
the average price of a shuttle launch adjusted across the life of the program (excluding all the boondoggle projects that were spawned to justify the existence of the space shuttle) in 2011 dollars is $450 million a go.

if you are going to split up the total cash going from nasa to space x and dividing it by the number of launches then you should do the same for the vehicle that you are comparing it to.

even accounting for subsidising spacex's other activities, falcon 9/dragon is 30% the price of continuing the shuttle program - the price is only going to drop as efficiencies are found in the production line.

and that's assuming that continued use of 25 year old orbiters didn't result in another space disaster and several years of downtime with half of florida still on payroll.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By dlapine on 9/24/2012 10:55:09 AM , Rating: 3
These are unmanned flights. You need to know the cost of a Progress unmanned flight, as well as it's upload and download mass to compare them correctly.

Progress only lifts 2600KG and can only return a paltry 150KG back to earth safely.

Dragon lifts 6000KG and can return 3000KG.

Hmmm, I found some cost estimates from a Nasawatch article-

"SpaceX was awarded $1.6 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 12 cargo resupply missions."

That would be $80M per metric ton.

"Approximate cost per pound to ISS

Space Shuttle* - $21,268
Russian Progress - $18,149"

And that would be just about $40M per ton from the Progress.

Soyuz is cheaper, but has some limitations in how much it can move in a single flight. Dragon will return about twice as much equipment as a Progress can in it's first cargo flight alone.

One reason the cost is higher is that the first contact (CRS) from NASA has extra money in it to help pay for the development of hardware and procedures for ISS operations of the Dragon.

Future contacts won't need that overhead and would be more cost efficient for that reason alone.

I'd also note that NASA is not making full use of Dragon's cargo capacity at this time. 12 Dragon flights could lift 72 metric tons, but they've chosen to utilize just 20 metric tons. You usually pay for a launch, and try to get as much onto it as possible. They could easily double the amount of cargo and bring that price down to the level of the Russian craft.

As the manned variant of the Dragon is still in development, I'm not sure what the costs for a manned flight will look like.

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By millerm277 on 9/24/2012 12:49:48 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't cost that much to send the thing to space. The contract IIRC is designed to partly subsidize the R&D costs of it. I'd assume that the price of future contracts will represent what the real price is much further.

You'll also note that the Russians haven't disclosed what their R&D costs are either.

Privatization of space
By johnsmith9875 on 9/22/2012 1:00:52 AM , Rating: 2
Don't expect it anytime soon. Space is too expensive and private companies will never survive unless they're getting government contracts.

RE: Privatization of space
By FaaR on 9/22/2012 6:25:21 AM , Rating: 2
"Never" is a bit too absolute a term, don't you think? :P

RE: Privatization of space
By Solandri on 9/23/2012 5:02:54 AM , Rating: 2
Especially considering it's already happened. The vast majority of satellites are paid for and owned by the private sector. Governments help fund the development of the launch vehicles, but even with those priced to recoup development expenses, putting a satellite in orbit is a money-making proposition.

RE: Privatization of space
By Bubbacub on 9/22/2012 8:17:45 AM , Rating: 2
as soon as we can make something unique and valuable solely in micro gravity the profits will start flowing.

it wont be a predictable discovery - when it comes however the venture capital will flow and the returning profits will drive more progress.

government subsidy to go to LEO with little in the way of tangible take home benefits is a hard sell for the public to accept.

RE: Privatization of space
By fellix on 9/22/2012 9:54:49 AM , Rating: 5
Never say never again -- read why:

• “I think there’s a world market for about 5 computers.”

( Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board, IBM, circa 1948 )

• “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”

( Ken Olson, President, Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977 )

• "Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become

a practical proposition."

( Dennis Gabor, British physicist and author of Inventing the Future, 1962 )

• "There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States."

( T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, 1961

(the first commercial communications satellite went into service in 1965)

• Space travel is bunk."

( Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of the UK, 1957

(two weeks later Sputnik orbited the Earth)

• "To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth--all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances."

( Lee deForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1957 )

• Space travel is utter bilge."

( Dr. Richard van der Reit Wooley, UK space advisor to the government, 1956

(Sputnik orbited the Earth the following year)

• "Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at

a plywood box every night."

( Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946 )

• "That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done [research on]... The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."

( William D. Leahy, U.S. Admiral, advising President Truman on atomic weaponry, 1944 )

• "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"

( H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, maker of silent movies, 1927 )

• "The radio craze will die out in time."

( Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1922 )

• "Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools."

( New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary rocket work, 1921

(note that the day after Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, the New York

Times printed a short boxed item on page 2. It read in full:

"Errata: It has now been conclusively demonstrated that a rocket ship can

travel through the vacuum of space. The Times sincerely regrets the error.")

• "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."

( Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, 1904(?)

• "The horse is here to stay, the automobile is only a fad."

( Advice of President of Michigan Savings Bank to Horace Rackham, lawyer for

Henry Ford, 1903

(Rackham ignored the advice and invested $5000 in Ford stock, selling it later

for $12.5 million)

• "Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever."

( Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889

(Edison often ridiculed the arguments of competitor George Westinghouse for AC power)

• "Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy."

( Drillers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil, 1859 )

• "What, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense."

( Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton's steamboat, 1800s )


RE: Privatization of space
By kattanna on 9/24/2012 10:00:01 AM , Rating: 2
LOL, nice list

• "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"

what makes me chuckle about that one is at one time actors where just that.. people who entertained but were not taken serious like they are today.

go for it!
By chromal on 9/22/2012 1:31:31 PM , Rating: 2
All the best to the folks at SpaceX, and good luck on the mission.

RE: go for it!
By FaaR on 9/22/2012 6:43:10 PM , Rating: 2
Aye. Best of luck to these brave, innovative pioneers.(*)

*Technically, not pioneers really, but it sounds better this way. :)

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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