Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

SpaceX Brings Crew Vehicle to D.C.

(Anne L. Kim, Technocrat)

(Anne L. Kim/CQ Roll Call)

Commercial launch company SpaceX brought its new seven-seat crew vehicle across the country from California this week for a show-and-tell of sorts with lawmakers, especially those who decide how much money to spend each year on a NASA program that helps develop private space capabilities.

It’s helpful for lawmakers who control the government’s purse strings to know what they might be buying, said SpaceX’s Elon Musk, talking to reporters at an event at the Newseum last night.

“A picture is one thing but seeing something in reality is much more convincing,” Musk said.

The visit to D.C. follows the initial recent unveiling of the Dragon V2 in California.

Technocrat spotted at the event Reps. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., Mike Honda, D-Calif., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. Nearly all sit on committees that set policy or draft spending bills for NASA. The House Intelligence panel’s ranking Democrat, Maryland’s C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, was also spotted.

(Anne L. Kim, Technocrat)

(Anne L. Kim/CQ Roll Call)

Right now, NASA is buying passage on the Russian Soyuz vehicle to get astronauts to the International Space Station. Under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which aids private space companies to develop capabilities to send astronauts into space, NASA is trying to enable American private spacecraft to start ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.

SpaceX wants a contract to ultimately do that.

As SpaceX was trying to court lawmakers on the  potential civilian space vehicle, Musk on Tuesday also criticized the Air Force, which SpaceX has sued  over satellite launch contracting with United Launch Alliance, which he’s also previously made accusations about.

“So, I don’t understand why it should take so long to learn about the rocket,” he said about the Falcon 9 rocket and the Air Force’s certification process. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta contributed.

  • Christopher Scott

    SpaceX is breath of fresh air that’s badly needed in Washington, especially over at the DoD. They are living proof that American ingenuity and know how is still alive despite every attempt by aerospace dinosaurs and their minions of lobbyists to keep fair and open competition as far away from them as possible. Shameful.

  • Jack Everett

    Great if it’s not just another NASA pig in a poke ego trip like the shuttle that was never safe to fly.

    • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

      Sorry, could you clarify your statement please?

    • Al_Loo_Minium

      A tiny bit of research on your part would make you realize your statement was rather silly.

      • Jack Everett

        The operation will show all that’s needed. I hope it works great and is not just another pig in a poke the congress is famous for falling for.

  • ToMarsAndBeyond

    Go SpaceX! The most aspiring and inpiring company on the planet! Let’s go to Mars! And beyond…
    Seeing is believing. Wonderful move to show the Dragon 2 Next Generation Spacecraft in Washington. It’s really a big step forward. Just compare the minimalistic touch screen and button controls with the cockpit of the Space Shuttle or any airplane. This is the future.

  • cdevboy

    I love SpaceX and wait for every launch but the antagonism aimed at the Air Force is somewhat detrimental and undeserved. Some pressure must be maintained to move the certification process forward. The AF is slow to move and also mired in the Good ol’ Boy Network method of buying. But SpaceX, frankly, has a dismal launch rate and virtually never holds a projected launch date. Most of this is probably due to the fact that they are still standardizing the hardware and learning to work with it. This is understandable and also why many people fear NASA’s one flight a year SLS will ultimately be such a problem.. Launch cadence is fundamental to the learning how to operate any launch system and contributes directly to any hope of the efficient reusability Musk requires. The lack luster appearance of what ULA represents to many SpaceX enthusiasts is that they launch an unchanging piece of hardware repeatedly, just the way the soviets do. Not much innovation but exactly what the AF must have to certify a vehicle and address taxpayers concerns that space assets which can cost more than a billion per satellite are protected. The best thing SpaceX can do is to cool the rhetoric and actually achieve launch published dates. Shift the press attack to ensuring that Commercial Crew is well funded. The Dragon is a winner but they must ensure it is completed.

    • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

      You should do a comparison on launch rates with existing providers at the same point in their vehicle development. I think you’ll find that SpaceX compares favourably to any of them. In addition, so far, SpaceX has not had a failure with their F9. Primary payloads have made it to orbit on all 9 launches and only on 1 was their an issue with an engine (Merlin 1C no longer flying) which affected a test secondary payload and again only becasue the primary payload customer decided fuel margins were too slim. i.e. NASA. On that flight, any other vehicle suffering a similar engine-out would have been toast and scored a LOM.

      • cdevboy

        Completely agree with you on their record. They are doing a great job, but they must now work on launch cadence to achieve the real prime time they deserve in the industry.

        • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

          Yep that’s their challenge. Shotwell admitted that herself recently in an interview. Wrt their latest launch, delay has been caused by helium leak needing root cause identification and fix, range maintenance delay, and most recently customer payload testing. Let’s hope they launch on their next window on 15th June.

  • cdevboy

    Several issues have yet to be discussed concerning Dragon. The interior of the vehicle wowed crowds with its machined metallic interior and excess roominess but few people at the time considered what was missing:
    1. The machined interior was bare because NASA has yet to specify what type of covering, and storage space etc will be required inside. (Extra space and weight).
    2. They must still add life support equipment, and consumables needed for the possible 1-4 day flights to ISS depending on ascent profile is used on each specific mission. The y have not indicated if it was in the base of the craft or not.
    3. NASA may configure some flights to carry internal payload with a reduced crew compliment of less than 7. This will also require allowance for some internal storage.
    4. What type of space suits will be worn? Will they be the traditional orange pumpkin type used on the Shuttle, the Russian type, or something with a more minimalist approach like Virgin Galactic plans to use. Will they wear these just for ascent and then done jumpsuits? Either way these suits will require storage space even if only removed once at ISS.
    5. When the hatch was opened during the unveiling, a cheer was heard from the crowd. Such clean simplicity would seem great but the hatch seemed to be lacking any real mechanism. This suggests that a much more complex and heavy locking type safety hatch will be put in place per NASA requirements. They have bad memories from Gus Grissom’s Mercury flight and the Apollo 1 fire. I do not believe they will be weak on any aspect of this. Greater weight.
    6. The actual docking hatch is in the nose. Will this area offer any type of Lockout system so that at least a single astronaut could exit the ship with out venting the entire craft requiring remaining crew wear space suits? This might add too much weight and space usage, but would be a great advantage for any craft. The shuttle has been the only US craft with this capability. Soyuz three module construction allows for this
    7. Because the new Super Draco thrusters are arranged in pods, is it safe to assume they can be treated as Line Replaceable Units for quick changeout. With a goal of Dragon reuse of ten flights (before heat shield replacement?) LRUs would be the obvious choice unless the capsule outer structure/covering prevented this.
    8. Both sizes of Draco Thrusters use a hypergolic fuel which reacts on contact with a catalyst or another fuel component. Older type hypergolic fuels have been very hazardous to human health and dangerous to handle. I have heard that those in use by SpaceX are said to be both safe to humans and “green” environmentally. This is important when missions rates rise. The EPA would not allow landings in Florida if the Dragon landings pumped out the old style fuels. These are the same fuels that required the Navy to shoot down an intelligence satellite to stop an uncontrolled reentry with full tanks over populated areas.
    9. The minimalist fold down control panel was great but I fear that NASA may require it be fixed in position and the cables have more protection from wear and abrasion. Will they require a redundant panel or controls.
    10.Total weight of the craft with load has not been stated. As NASA asks for changes will SpaceX be able to manage the weight gain from Scope Creep.

  • Duncan Hill

    I think SpaceX need to co-operate a bit more with the other people with whom they are competing for contracts here. That may sound a little counter intuitive, but working with them to push congress directly is really what is needed. Yes there will be costs to the taxpayer in terms of funding the production of these spacecraft, but the savings will immediately start rolling in as NASA won’t be wasting money sending money to Russia; not only is the primary cost to the US taxpayer less, but that money stays in the US, gets paid to US workers who pay taxes themselves, support the US economy and Elon Musk as he said himself is not bothered about keeping all his money and is quite happy to spend it.

  • Duncan Hill

    cdevbo: point 5 on the apollo 1 fire; Fires like that are ridiculously easy to avoid. There were a whole load of serious errors that contributed to that. It’s also worth mentioning that the ISS does not operate with a 100% oxygen atmosphere like the Apollo 1 did.

    • Glen Benjamin

      NASA was warned about the 100% atmosphere at the time. Plus you combine that under pressure and you get a potential disaster.

      • Duncan Hill

        exactly. And the astronauts said “take out all the velcro” and then they put it back in. And there were experiments that showed that if astronauts moved in their seats, the static buildup on the nylon was enough such that if they touched the aluminium in the craft, then they could generate a spark that would ignite the gas. and there were dangerous exothermic chemicals in there. Hell, there was even a ‘joke’ picture of the astronauts praying over a model of Apollo 1 – they knew how dangerous it was. The whole thing was a complete waste of three lives.

  • Shakes Sphere

    With the institutions of freedom, private property, and rule of law in place during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the citizens of the West voluntarily unleashed their abilities and created wealth on a scale never before seen.

  • Glen Benjamin

    Read the book “Angle of attack” and you will read how the guy building the capsule learned about it and was alerted by his physician I believe. He tried to inform higher ups who ignored his plea.

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