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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 9/21/2012 9:15:49 PM , Rating: 0
$133M a pop. Doesn't Russia do it for $60M?

I understand we should be supporting the growth of private space industry, but shouldn't NASA be awarding contracts with some cost savings in mind?

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.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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