The launch and orbital insertion of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft with 2,300 pounds of cargo bound for the International Space Station (ISS) was successful this morning. This is great news indeed given the engine explosion in the last launch.
Although the launch was a success, there was some issues once the Dragon reached orbit. Elon Musk reported on Twitter that there was a glitch with three of the four thruster pods on Dragon preventing them from initializing. As Dragon passed over the Australian ground station the ground crew issued a “command inhibit override”. After resolving the glitch in thruster pod 3 the solar arrays were deployed and focus turned to thruster pods 2 and 4. Hours later Musk reported that all pods were clear and all systems were green. Not long after he reported that the orbit raising burn was a success and Dragon is off to the International Space Station.
I anticipate the naysayers of SpaceX will point out that there was ANOTHER problem with Dragon and Falcon 9. To me I believe it’s the opposite. SpaceX demonstrated that they have the technical skill to troubleshoot the problem and fix it quickly and efficiently. Elon Musk demonstrated honesty through his Twitter account by providing a play-by-play account of the troubleshooting process. I think it is great he does this because, as a private company, SpaceX is not required to do this. He of course is required inform NASA but he owes no transparency to the general public. It is NASA’s job to handle the PR ultimately. To me it demonstrates his transparent honesty, leadership, and his confidence in the team he has assembled at SpaceX. I’m looking forward to more from SpaceX and Mr. Musk as we accelerate forward into the private space future.
If all goes as planned this Friday, Mar 1, 2013 at 10:10 a.m. EST (15:10 GMT) Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will launch a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). A “static fire test” was executed successfully on Monday, Feb 25, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. EST (18:30 GMT). According to SpaceX all nine engines fired successfully for two seconds. SpaceX engineers will analyze data and continue preparation for the scheduled launch later this week.
This marks the fourth time (once during a test flight) that a private company has launched an object to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and (fingers-crossed) return it to Earth for recovery. It is important for SpaceX to successfully complete all mission objectives after the partial success of CRS-1 last October. CRS-1 successfully recovered from a Merlin 1C engine failure about 79 seconds into the flight (see the video below).
The success of SpaceX is crucial for continued development of the nascent private space industry being incubated by NASA. CRS-2 is the second of twelve planned launches for SpaceX which started in October 2012 costing us approximately $1.6 billion. The development of SpaceX up to that point has been funded by the fortune of Elon Musk, private investors, and $278 million from NASA in “seed money” under the COTS program to develop the Falcon 9 rocket, among other things. This may seem expensive to some of you out there but keep in mind that the average cost of single Space Shuttle mission was $450 million. So far development costs and twelve missions to the ISS cost the taxpayer less than $2 billion over 3 years. This includes profit margin for SpaceX to reinvest into further development. Twelve shuttle missions would have cost the taxpayer at least $5.4 billion in 2011 dollars with nothing much to reinvest. That seems like a deal to this taxpayer.
The most exciting thing though is not ferrying stuff back and forth to the ISS. It is the private space infrastructure being funded by NASA and built by SpaceX thus enabling them to offer launch services affordably to smaller companies and start-ups. This lowers the barriers to entry to the space industry by lowering the cost per pound to orbit and beyond. In fact, the business plans of the asteroid mining start-ups I mentioned in a previous post are dependent on the success of SpaceX. With this in mind I have high hopes for SpaceX and wish them the best of luck on Friday. No matter what happens we’ll likely be talking about it Friday After Work.
The meteor that exploded over Russia last week dominated the news last week. Fortunately for us it was a little guy and never hit the ground. According to NASA this was the largest reported blast since the Tunguska event in 1908. The types of meteors likely hit the us more often than we know since the Earth is over 70% water. The ubiquity of digital video recording will likely reveal these type of events more often than ever before.
Meteors are the greatest threat to the future survival of human race. Space Daily reports that Russian astronomers Andrey Oreshko and Timur Kryachko discovered another asteroid 2012 YQ1 that is predicted to hit Earth in 2106. The article goes on to speculate that those of us in the Y2K generation may be around to see this due to likely advances in medicine, biochemistry, and nanotechnology. The clock is ticking to the next extinction level event. My hope is that the idea of a doomsday asteroid will continue to grow in the public consciousness thus pushing public policy and private industry forward to come up with solutions to this problem. The good news is we are developing the technology to avoid this awful fate.
In my opinion asteroid mining is the key. There are already two start-ups, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, competing to launching tiny space telescopes to prospect for valuable asteroids in Earth’s neighborhood. The discoveries of the telescopes along with the efforts of vigilant astronomers could find and predict the course of asteroids whizzing by Earth. The technologies these two companies develop to capture and exploit these valuable asteroids could also be used to redirect asteroids away from Earth thus buying us the time to spread the human race to the stars and preserve the home-world. I’m very optimistic and hope that the public, private investors, and government will come together to collaborate on this grand project to preserve the future of the human race. If not, we may witness the destruction of the human-race along with our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren in 2106.
UPDATE – 3/15/2013
Planetary Resources published an article describing how asteroid mining will provide the capabilities to defend Earth from asteroids.