SpaceX Success Questions Whether Two More Demos Are Needed

SpaceX Success Questions Whether Two More Demos Are Needed

The successful flight of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft today could mean that the next launch would go all the way to the International Space Station (ISS) instead of serving only as another test. At least that’s what SpaceX founder, Chief Executive Office (CEO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Elon Musk hopes.

At a press conference this afternoon, Musk raised the possibility of combining the currently scheduled COTS-2 and COTS-3 demonstration flights into one. NASA’s manager for the Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office, Alan Lindenmoyer, promised only that NASA would consider such a proposal from SpaceX. He cautioned that NASA had laid out an incremental program with different requirements for each of the next two launches. Musk said the schedule risk for achieving the first operational mission to the ISS in 2011 – part of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) effort – would be lower if the company only had to focus its comparatively small workforce on two missions in 2011 rather than three.

Lindenmoyer was exuberant about today’s success, saying that it was 100% successful and leaving no doubt that he was surprised to be able to say that. He was lavish in his praise of Space X, particularly SpaceX’s “skill and agility” in dealing with the engine nozzle cracks discovered on Monday. NASA was involved in all the management meetings about how to resolve that issue, he said: “My team and I kept firing questions” at SpaceX and they “consistently came back” with “full and comprehensive answers.” “As much as this partnership is learning from NASA, I think there are things we can learn from SpaceX,” he added.

The good will extended both ways. Musk stressed repeatedly that SpaceX owed a debt of gratitude to NASA, too. Sounding just as surprised as Lindenmoyer that the mission went so smoothly, he emphasized that “We are only here because we stand on the shoulder of giants” who developed the core technologies used in Falcon 9 and Dragon.

Musk also talked about how his Dragon spacecraft is more capable than Lockheed Martin’s Orion and much less expensive. “Anything Orion can do, Dragon can do, and … some things that Dragon can do, Orion can’t do,” he said. He cited Dragon’s heat shield as an example of where it is better than Orion, notably with regard to Mars missions. He hopes NASA will let Dragon compete with Orion for such missions.

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