It’s been a good 3 days for spaceflight. First a Soyuz blasted away from Baikonur carrying Nasa’s Reid Wiseman, Russian cosmonaut Max Surayev and German Alexander Gerst, from the European Space Agency. They’re due to carry out a 6 month expedition to the International Space Station.
Not only that but the Orion manned capsule passed another milestone with the integration of the heat shield. The 16.5ft Avcoat ablator shield will protect the capsule from the reentry temperatures on its unmanned test flight slated for December 2014. The test will be a major milestone for the Orion project. The capsule will be launched into an orbit of around three and a half thousand miles (15 times higher than the ISS) and will be used to check out the systems and how it reacts during a steep re-entry expected from the proposed missions to the Moon and eventually Mars.
Closer to home, Reaction Engines “SKYLON” passed another hurdle. An ESA report confirmed that Skylon is economically viable, this is a big achievement for the British company in their ongoing plan for a fully reusable space plane that can carry heavy payloads into orbit.
However the big news belongs to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Last night Musk unveiled Dragon V2. The manned variant of their dragon capsule. Designed to carry a crew of up to 7 to the International Space Station. Unlike the current capsule this one is designed to land on solid ground and comes complete with landing legs – although it also carries parachutes as a backup.
Not only that but gone is the claustrophobic capsules of Apollo, Dragon is pretty roomy for a capsule although I suspect a mission ready one will have more things inside than 7 seats and a giant iPhone. Musk said that this wasn’t the final design and that there was still padding and other things to put in.
What sets this aside is the reusability, NASA is currently paying the Russians for seats on Soyuz. However like Apollo, Soyuz isn’t reusable, once the capsules land that’s it for them. With Dragon they’re hopeful of a quick turnaround of capsules and with a heat shield that can survive multiple re entries that’s an easy claim to make. However they also said that of the Space Shuttle and the relentless schedule and the complexity (although not much of an issue with Dragon) resulted in some pretty close calls, and one tragedy.
Musk is onto a winner here, it’s no secret his ultimate goal is to get to Mars, and with a manned test flight (with NASA and SpaceX personnel onboard) planned for 2016 it looks like he’s just that one step closer.