Go SpaceX: USA crawling into big space

By | May 7, 2019

It seems that the advertised plans of “conquest of the moon and Mars” are postponed indefinitely
In March this year, the American company SpaceX has achieved another victory: the carrier rocket Falcon 9 put into orbit the ship Crew Dragon, which successfully docked with the International space station (ISS). Then the ship returned to Earth so that many fans of Elon Musk had a paroxysm of delight.

Let’s quote licensed sources:

“The Crew Dragon reusable spacecraft capsule has successfully landed in the Atlantic ocean, according to us National Aeronautics and space administration (NASA) on its Twitter page. It was the first test flight of Crew Dragon. The ship was built by SpaceX company Elon Musk by the order of NASA. It was launched into orbit by a Falcon 9 launch vehicle launched from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. This means that the financial relationship between Roscosmos and NASA for the contract delivery of astronauts to the ISS by Soyuz spacecraft will end, as expected, at the end of 2019. And then fly into orbit Americans will themselves, while Russia will lose about 350 million dollars a year. In the Roscosmos tragedy of this officially do not, fortunately, that the Russian state Corporation constant increase in the cost of flight into orbit itself partly had a hand in the loss of this money:

“If the Americans decide to fly to the ISS exclusively on their Dragon 2, the number of Soyuz launches will decrease. But he will not suffer great losses — in recent years there has been a whole queue of those wishing to use the services of Roscosmos. So commented on the news about the completion of the tests of the latest American spacecraft Crew Dragon interviewed “News” experts”.

This is clearly a good mine with not the best game. However, it was foolish to expect that the United States for a long time will remain dependent on Russia for flights to the orbital station. The success of American space exploration, as they say, is obvious. In addition to flights to the ISS, companies from the United States practically deprived Roscosmos of its former share in the market of “commercial transportation” into orbit. So, in 2018 a private company from the United States conducted 29 successful launches, and the Russian space Agency — up only 19. A similar situation was in 2017.

But there are some details that do not allow you to join the camp of enthusiastic fans of SpaceX and every successful launch of Falcon roar “go SpaceX”. First, why is anyone surprised that the global technological and industrial leader was able to return to independent orbital launches, and even make them commercially attractive against the background of “competitors”? Just want to remind you for a moment that the United States — this is the country that in the 60-70-ies of the last century in a flow way produced the most complex and unique super-heavy launch vehicles of the family “Saturn”. As we wrote earlier, all in the US in the years 1961-1975, was made 36 such a carrier rocket of superheavy class, of which 32 have been in space. Two more Saturn-1B missiles were not completed.

This is the same country that almost in the pre-computer era has implemented a complex program “Apollo”, landed on the moon as many as six expeditions! And in the course of this program, there were only two accidents (and only one with human victims). Our blog has already written that it is impossible to implement such a program now, at least because there are no super-heavy-class launch vehicles capable of delivering a payload of 70-80 tons (this is the minimum useful weight for such missions) to a low-earth orbit (Leo)!

We will not mention the numerous programs of exploration of near-earth space and planets of the Solar system by automated interplanetary stations (AMS), the Voyager mission and so on. Forget about space astronomy and the manned orbital flights of the Space Shuttle and working on Mars the Mars Rover. And after that, as an incredible achievement, we are presented with a Falcon launch vehicle, which seems to be a quarter cheaper to fly on a morally obsolete and it is not clear what the existing ISS is for than the old Soviet Proton launch vehicles with Soyuz spacecraft! As for the ISS, there is no exaggeration: the service life of this station is 2024.

Secondly, what kind of “space race” are we talking about if the modern US has no competitors in space? SpaceX and NASA for $ 8 billion have developed and implemented some advanced technologies that allowed to overtake the level of Soviet rocket 70-ies of the last century. This is remarkable. But the same Roscosmos represents a country that is continuously deteriorating in all indicators for about 30 years. Russia has almost no own engineering. The Russian Federation is not able to produce its own satellites (there is no element base), nor to carry out interplanetary missions, nor to conduct a more or less serious study of near-earth space (1-2 scientific satellites in orbit is not a level). The only reserve of the Russian Federation from the USSR remained the old Soviet missiles, the beginning of which was laid in the 40-50-ies of the last century with the participation of “trophy” German rocket engineers led by Helmut Grettrup (a colleague of the famous Werner von Braun).

Victory over such an “enemy” diminishes all the advantages of the “winner”. Perhaps this is understood by the Americans themselves, releasing through Elon Musk a number of duty praises to the Soviet rocket industry. Exactly, and that such a? The United States has just managed to create launch vehicles and orbital ships that seem to win on a number of parameters from the old Soviet products. For example, it is believed that SpaceX is “much cheaper” than missiles from Roscosmos. But if you look at the published data, the advantage is small: the cost of the commercial launch of Falcon 9 is about 50-60 million dollars, while the cost of the launch of the Russian “Proton-M” has varied in recent years from 60 to 110 million dollars. However, the cost of a kilogram of payload with the removal of the GPO (transfer orbit) in both carriers has been about the same for a long time — 11-12 thousand dollars. The cost of a kilogram of cargo on Leo in both carriers is also a little different: 2500-2900 dollars. Another thing is that SpaceX due to its speed and reserves to reduce the cost of launches this year can really blow up the market of prices for orbital commercial transportation.

Thirdly, the hype around “the unprecedented success of private companies” in orbital space looks strange. After all, it does not mean anything new for our civilization in terms of space exploration and even missile technology. Apart from religious sectarians from the support group of Elon Musk, the Assembly of launch vehicles at the bottom of the gravitational well of the Earth and their launches into orbit is a dead-end version of space exploration, which makes even attempts to develop the “nearby” moon meaninglessly. The bulk of NASA and SpaceX Plans, as well as a number of other companies from the United States to fly to Mars or the moon, rests on a number of almost insoluble problems. And for them, it does not matter whether a miracle-the return of the Falcon rocket’s first stage.

Recall that because of the gravity of modern earth space is largely limited only by the orbit. The coefficient of performance (efficiency) of the launch vehicles to bring the payload even to low earth orbit (Leo) is monstrously low. Thus, the super-heavy carrier rocket Saturn-5 with a height of 110 meters and a starting mass of 2965 tons had a record output to Leo of about 147 tons of payload. Its efficiency is 4.9%. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket has a starting mass of 1,430 tons, and the theoretical output payload for Leo (not yet tested) is 63 tons. The efficiency of 4.4%. To Mars with this rocket to send something with a payload of over 16 tons impossible that immediately puts an end to any fly people to the Red Planet. Finally, the launch vehicle of the super-heavy class Big Falcon Rocket, which is in development at SpaceX, with a starting mass of 4,000 tons, will be able to output 100 tons of payload to Leo. Its efficiency will be as much as 4%…

Regular flights of people even to the moon look very controversial. But if it is to provide that relevant for these purposes, carrier rockets heavy class is available. However, the US now does not have such launch vehicles capable of bringing to Leo more than 70 tons of payload, which theoretically would allow the earth’s Astronautics to send an expedition with people not even to Mars, but at least to the neighboring moon. In February 2018, a test launch of the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle was made, seemingly capable of bringing up to 63 tons of payload to Leo. But so far there is no question of any flight to the moon: the announced SpaceX in 2017, the flight of the moon on The dragonv2 ship in 2018 was canceled, and in the program of this launch vehicle for the next few years, only a few orbital missions. So to fly to the moon, not to mention Mars, yet on what. So the “revolution” of private American cosmonautics naturally chokes on the same near-earth orbit.The ship docked with the International space station in Autonomous mode on March 3 and conducted a five-day joint flight. On Friday, he went out of orbit, dropping a leaky cargo hold. After that, in the dense layers of the atmosphere at the capsule opened parachutes, and she gently splashed off the East coast of Florida.

On Board, the ship instead of the crew was dressed in a suited mannequin named Ripley, named after the heroine of a series of science fiction films “Alien”. The condition of the dummy was monitored by sensors. The first reusable stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle manufactured by SpaceX after the launch of the ship landed on a floating platform.”

In fact, the further development of events is not difficult to predict: the US will be able to deliver cargo and astronauts into orbit to the ISS independently, bypassing the services of the Russian Roscosmos:
It is remarkable that nobody paid any attention to the ceiling, which ran the space program. The Red Dragon mission to Mars (let’s face it, frankly idiotic) and a half years as canceled. Previously, something similar happened in the state of American space, wherein 2011 without noise and dust was covered by the program “Constellation”, which provided for flights to the moon and Mars. Now the “tail” of the NASA — Space Launch System program, which implied the development of a super-heavy class launch vehicle, has come to a positional impasse.

Elon Musk is a little more savvy in terms of marketing, so his loud PR campaigns regularly change the name of the projects every 2-3 years, so that the audience with the collective memory of aquarium fish does not get too tired. In 2016, a talented Manager with pomp unveiled the Interplanetary Transport System program for the development of Mars, which replaced the red Dragon mission introduced in 2013. In September 2017, Elon Musk announced the big Falcon Rocket project. This is a new generation launch vehicle and spacecraft project that involves the creation of ground infrastructure to launch and reuse the system and fuel depots to refuel in low earth orbit.

Naturally, the launch vehicle itself does not yet exist, and the Raptor liquid-propellant jet engine designed for it has been developed since 2009 (in fact, a few years earlier) and only this year has reached the stage of fire tests. This engine, if it ever starts to be used, will be more powerful and more efficient than the old Soviet-Russian RD-170 and RD-180 (developed in the 70-80-ies of the last century, respectively).

To understand: a simple single-chamber liquid rocket engine F-1, used on American superheavy launch vehicles “Saturn”, was developed and brought to “mind” by Rocketdyne for about 10 years (1955-1965 years), and since 1967 was in full operation for missions to the moon. The modern USA can not recreate something similar (Space Launch System), or create something better for the second decade. If such a puffing is delayed for a few more years, such unpleasant comparisons will increasingly arise in the minds of fans of acute space adventures. And there are already some films, high-sounding titles and commercials about the exploration of the red planet do not get rid of. Perhaps sooner or later people will start to ask why the Assembly of launch vehicles and spacecraft cannot be conducted in orbit or use the moon as a base for flights in the Solar system? After all, our traditional earthly space with an efficiency of rockets to 4-5% — it’s not even funny.

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