NASA and SpaceX Launch First Dragon Test Flight on March 2
The nine-day period between near the end of February and the first part of March was a busy period for NASA and for SpaceX. On February 21 SpaceX launched three satellites. The first launch was an Indonesian Nusantra Satu communications satellite, a small experimental satellite for the United States Air Force, and the Israeli Beresheet Lunar Lander.
On March 2, the Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2, was launched to meet and dock with the International Space Station. This was the first test in the evolution of the Dragon supply vessel to a manned vessel capable carrying seven people. It is America’s return to carrying its own people to space since July 8, 2011.
When the Dragon 2 passes its abort test it will be qualified to carry astronauts from earth to the International Space Station. It is built to carry seven people and can be used for carrying supplies to the ISS on future missions. Two of the improvements over previous Dragon models are the solar panels are mounted on the outside of the trunk and the nosecone can now be opened to access the spacecraft stacking port.
Dragon 2 also incorporates eight SuperDraco thrusters which are hypergolic propellant liquid rocket engines designed and made by SpaceX. In a configuration of eight SuperDraco engines fault-tolerant propulsion provides redundancy as a launch escape system and propulsive landing thrust for the Dragon 2.
SuperDracos power the Dragon 2 spacecraft’s evolutionary launch escape system which is the first of its kind. If an emergency occurs during launch, eight SuperDraco engines built into the Dragon sidewalls will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety.
According to SpaceX, SuperDraco rocket engines utilize storable (non-cryogenic) propellant which allows his engines to be fired many months after viewing and launch. Draco is a family of hypergolic liquid rocket engines designed and built by SpaceX. The original Draco is a small rocket engine for use on the Dragon spacecraft. SuperDraco is derived from Draco but is over 100 times larger in terms of delivered thrust. In addition, the SuperDraco engines can be restarted many times and be precisely controlled during propulsive landing of the Dragon capsule although SpaceX has announced that they will not be using propulsive landing on the Dragon 2.
When Elon Musk builds a SpaceX product, his goal is to build the very best of class at a lower cost, often at a much lower cost, and his competitors. He does this by bringing the product design, testing, and manufacturing in-house we SpaceX as total control of the process. He continually proves that he is right about this. In order to meet these goals musk ascertained that SpaceX needed to utilize 3D printing. In 2013, SpaceX successfully fired a SuperDraco engine at full thrust using a 3D printed engine chamber evolved entirely in-house.
To quote SpaceX, ” The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in Inconel, a high performance superalloy. Printing the chamber resulted in an order of magnitude reduction in lead-time compared with traditional machining – the path from the initial concept to the first hotfire was just over three months.
During the hotfire test, which took place at SpaceX’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas, the SuperDraco engine was fired in both a launch escape profile and a landing burn profile, successfully throttling between 20% and 100% thrust levels. To date the chamber has been fired more than 80 times, with more than 300 seconds of hot fire.
The Dragon Version 2 spacecraft represents a leap forward in spacecraft technology across the board from its Version 1 predecessor. When SuperDracos are flown on a demonstration of Dragon’s launch escape system later this year, it will be the first time in history that a printed thrust chamber has ever been used in a crewed space program.”
The success of the Dragon 2 space vehicle is an important milestone in immediate and future space travel. Elon Musk will tell you that he was one launch short of giving up on the whole business and thus his lifelong dream of putting mankind on different planets throughout the galaxy. SpaceX is proving that it can do better than giant corporations and governments i.e. United States, Russia, and China and put a man into space sooner and at a lower cost than they thought could be done.
In the future people will look back and say “Damn! You people were lucky to have been there to see that really cool stuff happen!”