Dragon Resumes Space Station Cargo Operations as Falcon-9 Sticks Its First Drone Ship Landing

SpaceX's Falcon-9 flew into clear blue skies over Cape Canaveral AFS this afternoon, taking aim with Dragon for the CRS-8 mission to the ISS. The flight marked the first successful offshore barge landing for the company as well, marking the second time SpaceX has achieved a landing after launching from the Cape. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
SpaceX’s Falcon-9 flew into clear blue skies over Cape Canaveral AFS this afternoon, taking aim with Dragon for the CRS-8 mission to the ISS. The flight marked the first successful offshore barge landing for the company as well, marking the second time SpaceX has achieved a landing after launching from the Cape. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Almost a year since the launch of its last fully-successful Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX has delivered another of its venerable cargo ships toward the orbiting outpost. Liftoff of the CRS-8 mission—flown under the language of the initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract, signed between NASA and SpaceX in December 2008—took place at 4:43 p.m. EDT Friday, 8 April, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. As with SpaceX’s previous ISS-bound missions, the launch window was an “instantaneous” one, imposing additional restrictions and leaving little margin for last-minute technical issues or changeable weather conditions.

About ten minutes after leaving the Cape, Dragon separated from the second stage of its Upgraded Falcon 9 booster and was in the process of deploying its solar arrays and other hardware, ahead of a robotic capture and berthing by Expedition 47 crew member Tim Peake on Sunday morning.

Dragon CRS-8 atop Falcon-9, hours before liftoff. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
Dragon CRS-8 atop Falcon-9, hours before liftoff. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Including today’s spectacular launch, this brings to nine the total number of Dragons lofted towards the ISS in a little less than four years. Under the terms of the initial CRS agreement, both SpaceX and its fellow commercial cargo partner, Orbital ATK—which operates the Cygnus resupply vehicle—were required to conduct a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) “Demo” mission to the station, before pressing into their full commitment of dedicated flights. In launching its Demo mission in May 2012, SpaceX became the first commercial entity to accomplish rendezvous and berthing with the space station, when Dragon was captured by Expedition 31 crewmen Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, using the 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2.

With the successful completion of the Demo mission, SpaceX was able to begin its initial round of 12 cargo delivery flights to the space station, conducted through 2016. All told, the original CRS contract required SpaceX to deliver a total of 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of equipment and supplies to the ISS. Between October 2012 and April 2015, six Dragons journeyed to the ISS, each berthing at the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Harmony node. They transported a range of supplies, tools, equipment and research facilities and experiments to several expedition crews, as well as a number of unpressurized payloads inside Dragon’s trunk. The latter have included the Rapid Scatterometer (RapidScat), the Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) and a pair of Heat Rejection Subsystem Grapple Fixtures (HRSGFs), which were later attached to the station’s external radiators during U.S. EVA-22 in July 2013.

In addition to its baseline 12-flight commitment, SpaceX’s roster of Dragons has been augmented by several additional missions under its initial CRS contract and, in January 2016, was one of three recipients of the follow-on CRS2 contract. The latter is expected to see a minimum of six more Dragon flights, to be conducted from 2019 through to the currently timetabled end of ISS operations in December 2024.

A failure-free run of Dragon launches came to a shuddering halt on 28 June 2015, when the CRS-7 mission—laden with the first of two Boeing-built International Docking Adapters (IDAs) for future Commercial Crew applications—was lost at high altitude, just 139 seconds after liftoff. As SpaceX dug in for several months of investigations and corrective actions, the next planned Dragon mission (CRS-8) fell back on the manifest, before eventually winding up in fourth place, after last December’s opening voyage of the Upgraded Falcon 9 and a pair of NASA and commercial payloads in the opening weeks of 2016.

Falcon-9 CRS-8 with Dragon taking aim at the ISS. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace
Falcon-9 CRS-8 with Dragon taking aim at the ISS. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

In readiness for Friday’s launch attempt, SpaceX undertook a standard Static Fire Test of the Upgraded Falcon 9’s nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines on Tuesday, 5 April. This was followed by a Launch Readiness Review (LRR). On launch day, loading of liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (known as “RP-1”) commenced about 35 minutes before T-0. The countdown reached its final “Go/No-Go” polling point of all stations at T-13 minutes and the Terminal Count got underway at T-10 minutes.

During this period, the Merlin 1D+ engines were chilled, preparatory to their ignition sequence, and all external power utilities from the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) were disconnected. The “strongback” was retracted from the vehicle at T-5 minutes and the Flight Termination System (FTS) was placed onto internal power and armed. Fueling concluded and the first stage’s propellant tanks attained their proper flight pressures. Finally, at T-60 seconds, the 53 nozzles of the Niagara deluge system were activated, flooding the launch pad surface and flame trench with 30,000 gallons (113,500 liters) of water per minute to suppress acoustic energy at the instant of engine ignition.

All nine Merlins roared to life at T-3 seconds and ramped perfectly up to a combined thrust of 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kg). After computer checks validated their health, the booster departed SLC-40—making it the 21st member of the Falcon 9 family to do so since June 2010—at 4:43 p.m. EDT. Immediately after clearing the tower, it executed a combined pitch, roll and yaw program maneuver to establish itself onto the proper flight azimuth to inject the CRS-8 Dragon into low-Earth orbit.

Passing through the speed of sound at 80 seconds into the ascent, the Upgraded Falcon 9 experienced maximum aerodynamic stress (colloquially known as “Max Q”) on its airframe. Later, two of the first-stage Merlins were throttled back to reduce the rate of acceleration at Main Engine Cutoff (MECO). A little under three minutes after leaving the Cape, the seven remaining Merlins were shut down and the first stage separated from the stack. The turn then came for the restartable second stage, whose single Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine ignited to continue the climb towards orbit. During its burn, the protective nose fairing—which covers Dragon’s berthing mechanism—was jettisoned and the spacecraft separated from the second stage about ten minutes into the mission. Its two electricity-generating solar arrays were deployed, as was its Guidance and Navigation Control (GNC) Bay Door to expose critical rendezvous sensors. An intricate series of maneuvers to reach the vicinity of the ISS on Sunday morning also got underway.

With the successful delivery of CRS-8 to low-Earth orbit, SpaceX’s second mission of the day got underway. Shortly after the separation of the Upgraded Falcon 9’s first stage, efforts to return the hardware to a soft landing on the deck of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean kicked into high gear. As outlined previously by AmericaSpace, a number of attempts have been made to land Falcon 9 first stages on the ASDS, with varying degrees of success.

A series of “controlled oceanic touchdowns” in April, July and September 2014 were followed by four attempts to physically land on the ASDS. The first, in January 2015, saw the first stage reach the deck, but impact at a 45-degree angle and explode, whilst the second, in April 2015, landed with excessive lateral velocity and toppled over upon impact. Then, in January 2016, the final Falcon 9 v1.1 came close to a bull’s-eye landing on the ASDS, but was thwarted by the failure of one of its landing legs to properly latch into position. More recently, last month’s first-stage hardware from the SES-9 launch reached the deck—against many odds, having endured a high-energy re-entry and a truncated series of descent burns—but “impacted hard” on the ASDS and was lost.

With today’s launch, however, the Falcon-9 first stage executed its offshore landing flawlessly, marking another big milestone accomplishment for the company as they continue evolving the booster into a rapidly reusable (and cheaper) launch system.

VIDEO: Falcon-9 Drone Ship Landing April 8, 2016 (credit: SpaceX)

“Like landing on a postage stamp”, said Elon Musk this afternoon, briefing the press at Kennedy Space Center after the launch.

As with previous Dragons, CRS-8 will approach the space station along the “R-Bar” (or “Earth Radius Vector”), which provides an imaginary line from Earth’s center toward the ISS, effectively approaching its quarry from “below”. In so doing, Dragon will take advantage of natural gravitational forces to brake its final approach and reduce the need to perform excessive numbers of thruster burns. By Sunday morning, it will reach a “Hold Point” about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the station, whereupon it must pass a “Go/No-Go” poll of flight controllers in order to draw nearer.

Further polls and holds will be made at distances of 3,700 feet (1,130 meters) and 820 feet (250 meters), after which Dragon will creep toward its target at less than 3 inches (7.6 cm) per second. Critically, at 650 feet (200 meters), it will enter the “Keep-Out Sphere” (KOS), which provides a collision avoidance exclusion zone, and its rate of closure will be slowed yet further to just under 2 inches (5 cm) per second. After clearance has been granted for the robotic visitor to advance to the 30-foot (10-meter) “Capture Point,” the final stage of the rendezvous will get underway, bringing Dragon within range of Canadarm2. Current plans call for Expedition 47 astronauts Tim Peake and Jeff Williams, based in the multi-windowed cupola, to grapple Dragon at about 7 a.m. EDT Sunday. They will be assisted by Commander Tim Kopra, who led last month’s Orbital ATK OA-6 Cygnus grapple.

The Robotics Officer (ROBO) in the Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, will then command the physical berthing of the cargo ship to the nadir CBM of the Harmony node by 10 a.m. EDT. Berthing will occur in two stages, with the Expedition 47 crew overseeing “First Stage Capture”, in which hooks from the node’s nadir CBM will extend to snare the cargo ship and pull their respective CBMs into a tight mechanized embrace. “Second Stage Capture” will then rigidize the two connected vehicles, by driving 16 bolts, effectively establishing Dragon as part of the ISS for the next month. Shortly afterwards, the Expedition 47 crew will be given a “Go” to pressurize the vestibule leading from the Harmony nadir hatch into the cargo ship.

SpaceX CRS-8 launch. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
SpaceX CRS-8 launch. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace

“The cargo will allow investigators to use microgravity conditions to test the viability of expandable space habitats, assess the impact of antibodies on muscle wasting, use protein crystal growth to aid the design of new disease-fighting drugs and investigate how microbes could affect the health of the crew and their equipment over a long duration mission,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.

With the arrival of CRS-8, this will mark the first occasion that as many as six visiting vehicles—whether piloted or unpiloted—have been simultaneously in residence at the ISS. In addition to the Soyuz TMA-19M and Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft, which delivered both halves of the incumbent Expedition 47 crew to the station in December 2015 and March 2016, there are also a pair of Russian Progress resupply freighters and Orbital ATK’s OA-6 Cygnus cargo ship. With the arrival of Dragon, this will leave four vehicles docked at the station’s Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and two berthed at the nadir ports of the Unity and Harmony nodes on the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS). It will also mark the first occasion that both of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services providers, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, are represented on-station at the same time.

And 2016 is shaping up to mark the first year that one of NASA’s commercial providers will have staged as many as three missions in a single calendar year. That achievement was narrowly missed in 2015, when the back-to-back successes of the CRS-5 and CRS-6 Dragons was tempered by the failure of CRS-7. Today’s launch of CRS-8 is expected to herald three Dragon missions in 2016, which will see CRS-9 in late June deliver an International Docking Adapter (IDA) and CRS-10 in August drop off a multitude of payloads, including the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program (STP)-H5, with the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), and the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE)-III to enhance the station’s capability as a research platform. In parallel, Orbital ATK’s first Cygnus cargo flight of 2016 is currently underway, with the OA-5 mission slated for June and OA-7 for December.

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Missions » ISS » COTS » CRS-8 »


    • You apparently missed this point:

      “All told, the original CRS contract required SpaceX to deliver a total of 44,000 pounds (20,000 kg) of equipment and supplies to the ISS. Between October 2012 and April 2015, six Dragons journeyed to the ISS, …”

      The period of the original terms of the contract extended to the end of 2015 and was to be accomplished in 12 flights. So by the original terms of the contract SpaceX flew half the number of required missions and delivered less than half the required payload (21,358 lbs.).

      If that is the definition of ” victory”, it would be interesting to know the definition of defeat.

      • Going out of business like the last round of NewSpace in the 90s would be defeat, i.e. no sustainable business. You sound like a serious case of sour grapes. NASA knows the value long term it is getting in the process of supporting SpaceX and completely obvious to anyone looking at it impartially. The Mars JPL crowd alone, who have completely run out of runway on the Viking landing architecture, were waiting for someone to do/fund supersonic retro-propulsion testing….and someone is doing it for them now. How nice is that? COTS was to spin up a new way of doing business so their are always bumps along the way. Has NASA ever had any project/contract that has gone longer than expected? If NASA was getting such a bad deal why did they sign up again for more COTS missions? Are they idiots?

        • “Gong out of busness lke the last round of NewSpace n the 90s would be defeat, .”

          Defining success as a government subsidized enterprise not going out of business is setting the bar remarkably low.

          “You sound lke a serous case of sour grapes.”

          So noting that SpaceX failed to meet even half the requirement of the original contract is “sour grapes” to you. If a real commercial company failed to that extent they would not be described as victorious.

          “The Mars JPL crowd alone, who have completely run out of runway on the Vkng landng archtecture, were watng for someone to do/fund supersonc retro-propulson testng….and someone s dong t for them now. How nce s that?”

          Trying to justify these expenditures by alleged “spin off” value to JPL is at least inventive. However Blue Origin (which – by the way – just successfully launched and landed the same New Shepard for the third time)is doing that work for them with out the government subsidies.

          You sound like someone desperately trying to justify SpaceX (lets be polite and call it) questionable performance on the CRS contract.

          • Who EXACTLY determines every SINGLE pound of cargo that IS loaded on a dragon cargo vessel bound for the ISS? Explain to me how it IS SpaceX’s fault that NASA determined how many pounds of cargo each FLIGHT would be allowed to carry?

            • SpaceX signed a contract to DEVIVER 44,000 pounds of up-mass TO the ISS IN 12 flights BY the end of 2015 and FAILED to do EVEN HALF of that (everybody can type in all caps – doesn’t prove anything).

              You can continue to try and deflect the blame for that failure to the customer (or Martians – whoever) as much as you choose, it will not make the facts go away.

              As far as NASA complicity is concerned, above Clio asked: “If NASA was gettng such a bad deal why dd they sgn up agan for more COTS mssons? Are they dots?”

              The answer is that NASA is an executive branch agency and sets its policy based on instructions from the executive branch political leadership. That current leadership (for whatever reasons) aligned itself with so called new space and the CRS/Commercial Crew support for ISS.

              The current administration will be replaced in less than a year. Suppose either Sanders or Trump (both of whom have expressed public hostility to space funding) are elected and calls for abandoning US participation in the ISS at the earliest opportunity.

              NASA would then “decide” to cancel participation in CRS/Commercial Crew. They might even use SpaceX and Orbital Sciences under performance on the initial CRS contract as a rationale.

              If that happens, by your and Clio’s “logic” SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, CRS, and Commercial Crew all become failures.

              • I type in caps so the “I” shows.

                Show me a LINK where SpaceX refused to fly cargo to meet the upmass to the ISS?

                NASA DETERMINES every pound that flys not SpaceX. SpaceX could have flew BRICKS to the ISS and CARRIED more WEIGHT but that would have been nutty. IF you have a problem WITH how much NASA chooses to fly to the ISS you should COMPLAIN to them.

                • I could as easily demand you provide a LINK to where NASA waived the up-mass requirements clearly spelled out in the contract. That kind of “dirty laundry” is not aired in public.

                  The contract called for delivery of 44,000 lbs by the end of 2015. SpaceX failed to deliver (by more than a factor of two).

                  You can continue to try and blame the customer for the service providers shortfalls, but it will not make the (rather obvious) facts go away.

                  • No, they didn’t fail to deliver unless they failed to deliver what NASA asked them to show up with. They lost one ship and didn’t get paid for that ship.

                    • Three weeks later and another post.

                      This subject has already been addressed over and over again.

                      If SpaceX fans wish to continue to try and blame the customer for the short falls of the provider (however illogical that may be) no one is going to dissuade you.

                      So have fun. Just don’t expect anyone to keep responding to your redundant posts.

                    • For whatever reason, the comment system will not let me reply to you in thread.

                      SpaceX lost one mission and were not paid for that flight, per the contract.

                      If they loft to the ISS per the contract what NASA asks them to carry, then they are in fullfillment of the contract. If you object to that very commonsense interpretation and insist on the weight only, then you are in fact in the ridiculous position of arguing SpaceX should have a guy go up with each Dragon to strongarm the occupants so lead bricks can be forcibly loaded on to the ISS over NASA objections. You have not relevantly addressed any criticism of your position, and at this point I do not think many are laughing with you. The redundancy is all yours until and unless you can show NASA has asked a particular flight to carry something SpaceX has said it cannot on the basis of excessive weight.

                    • TomDPerkins,
                      The comment system limits the depth of threads. This thread is already at the max depth.

                      SpaceX is late -> thus are not fully meeting their contract.
                      SpaceX is delivering what NASA requests, sure. The folks at NASA are being realists. They understand that regardless of what the contract says, SpaceX isn’t going to (and now obviously can’t) meet the original schedule.

                      If you want more arguments for/against, Joe and I had a nice debate/discussion about this topic farther down in the comments of this very article.

            • Blue Origin is in the midst of an extensive on going test program (all on their own money). Their activities may not assist JPL’s goals, but if they do not neither will SpaceX’s. So nice try to you.

              It is however amusing to read a new space supporter trying to praise the benefits of “spin offs”. When the “dino-space” types do that your team usually makes fun of them.

              • “all on ther own money”

                Right…ULA is half funding BE-4 dev to the tune of 500M; this comes from the recent SVP of engineering fiasco. Where does ULA get the money from to do this? Perhaps the same place NASA does, the US tax payer, as that is their main customer. Besides BO got NASA funding and expertise to help work on the crew capsule and abort system as well. Lastly, where is the E-1 test-stand BO did original BE-3 dev work anyway?


                The fact is SpaceX was started as a private startup (got to orbit!), then got significant funding from NASA and more recently got an infusion of investment to the tune of a couple billion from private sources as well. And in the end this “subsidized” company has private bookings well in excess of what NASA put in the pot.

                What a horrible move by NASA….new medium lift platform, only cargo vessel able to significantly down-mass ISS, research into reusability, research into retro-propulsion, world class PICA TPS production facility, SuperDraco thruster development along with Dragon v2 all for a couple billion dollars. A couple of billion is lost between the JWST or SLS/Orion budget office sofa.

                And the irony that you are so in love with BO when its founder is notorious for a startup, Amazon, that hemorrhaged cash for years and years and until recently was not known for profitability at all.


                • (1 Blue Origin is working in partnership with ULA to develop the BE-4 which is a private company investing its private money in the project. If you do not understand the difference between that and payments from the federal government (through NASA), then perhaps some remedial economics courses are in order.

                  (2) Blue Origin worked with NASA on Commercial Crew for one year to the tune of $22M as opposed to the $2B+ and counting for SpaceX, but two orders of magnitude is not significant. When trying to defend SpaceX facts are just an annoyance. By the way Ben Evans reported at the time on this website that Bolden had to talk Blue Origin into participating in the Commercial Crew Program and they dropped out after one year of their own volition.

                  (3) SpaceX did not achieve orbit before beginning to depend on government subsidies. If you are talking about the defunct Falcon 1 they received DoD money (through DARPA) to pay for that work.

                  (4) Am not “in love” with Blue Origin simply noting that your original assertion that SpaceX was giving “spin off” benefits to JPL was factually challenged (as are a number of your assertions). SpaceX aficionados really need to get the attack lines straight. One minute the accusation is of being a Dino-Space Troglodyte, the next minute a Blue Origin fan boy. The two are mutually exclusive. If you are going to smear someone with ad homonym insults at least be consistent.

                  (5) As for the personal attacks on Bezos, I could care less. I am interested in Blue Origin only to the extent that it may produce useful hardware. Unlike SpaceX cult members who appear to worship at the Alter of the Elon.

                  • Yes, and two orders of magnitude also happens to be the difference between apogee just above the Karmin line and GTO.

                    • Yes and that particular non sequitur makes more sense than anything else you have said recently.

          • So compare to the governmen financed systems of the last few decades. ALS, Ares, Atlas, DCX, Delta, NASP, Venturestar, X33, x34, and so on.

            • Am honestly not sure what you are wanting to be compared to “ALS, Ares, Atlas, DCX, Delta, NASP, Venturestar, X33, x34, and so on.”

              If your point is that the government has behaved erratically for decades now (at least where space policy is concerned), starting then cancelling a series of launch systems developments; I agree with you.

              But that has nothing to do with the CRS underperformance.

              Pointing to bad behavior by others only justifies bad behavior on Elementary School Yards.

                • So your definition of defeat is to have your project cancelled due to a change in administration policy.

                  At the risk of repeating myself:

                  The current administration will be replaced in less than a year. Suppose either Sanders or Trump (both of whom have expressed public hostility to space funding) are elected and calls for abandoning US participation in the ISS at the earliest opportunity.

                  NASA would then “decide” to cancel participation in CRS/Commercial Crew. They might even use SpaceX and Orbital Sciences under performance on the CRS contract as a rationale.

                  If that happens, by your “logic” SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, CRS, and Commercial Crew all become failures.

        • https://www.reddit.com/r/spacex/comments/4gqxgh/jsc_director_ellen_ochoa_sent_out_this_note_today/

          “One of our partners in this journey, Space X, announced plans today to attempt a landing of an uncrewed Dragon 2 spacecraft, known as Red Dragon, on Mars as soon as 2018. NASA, including JSC, is providing Space X with technical support for this challenging mission. JSC is assisting this effort through the 2014 Collaborations for Commercial Space Capabilities Space Act Agreement, signed by NASA and Space X. Our Commercial Space Capabilities Office manages that agreement, which includes technical assistance on the Red Dragon Mission.”

          “Our JSC’s Engineering Directorate is coordinating agency-wide support to SpaceX under its leadership role for the STMD/Game Changing Development Program/Propulsive Descent Technology Project to help the Entry, Deceleration, and Landing aspects of the planned Red Dragon technology demonstration mission to Mars.”

          Sounds like SpaceX and NASA are hand and glove working on SRP for Mars decent. This is what I meant by value beyond COTS in the relationship. Although what I say is random “spin-offs” and doesn’t make much sense anyway, Red Dragon has been brewing for years now. Our only hope in accessing Mars with larger craft is to get off the supersonic parachute slowed saucer from the 70s. Sky-crane is cool but suggests your EDL platform hit the wall.

      • You are basically saying SpaceX has only succeeded with 6 out of 12 CRS missions in the contract time frame. And SpaceX has only launched ~half the specified payload.

        This is a delay not a complete failure.

        Sure. But SpaceX is still going have to launch the remaining 5 CRS missions. Plus any extras that have been added on.

        It sounds like they’re roughly on track mass-wise and behind (as always) on schedule.

        • Ben,

          A hypothetical (and I am not being sarcastic):

          (1) You are a retailer and contracted with a trucking firm to supply your store.
          (2) The contract called for delivery of 100 units in 10 deliveries in 12 months.
          (3) In 12 months the truckers have only delivered 49 units in 5 deliveries.

          Would you be saying: “Oh well it is not a complete failure, they will get around to delivering the rest sooner or later.”?

          The ISS logistics teams have been going quietly nuts figuring how to work around the shortfalls of both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. Those folks deserve medals for service above and beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately they will never get them because, nobody is going to talk this in public,

          • Your point is fair.

            I’m sure NASA would vastly prefer if their deliveries were on time. But, on the other hand, orbital launch is a much more complicated and challenging task than truck deliveries.

            When contracting with new entrants to the market, I would think that NASA expected some amount of delays. If they were extremely concerned about it they could have had planned alternatives, and/or contractual penalties written into the contracts. (And considering they have gotten by, they appear to have had sufficient alternative available)

            As I understand it, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences will not be required to re-launch the missions that failed for free. I.E. NASA payed for launch attempts not deliveries.

            In the end CRS missions are badly behind the originally contracted schedule, but NASA does now have the ability to use competition through multiple providers to help insure resupply costs are as low as possible.

            In the absence of the shuttle how should NASA have handled ISS resupply? They opened the contract up to competition and new companies entered with overly-optimistic schedules.

            • “When contracting with new entrants to the market, I would think that NASA expected some amount of delays. If they were extremely concerned about t they could have had planned alternatives, and/or contractual penalties written into the contracts. (And considering they have gotten by, they appear to have had sufficient alternative available)”

              (1) There was political pressure surrounding the letting of the contracts and planning (and having actually available) alternatives would have required resources (meaning money) that was not allowed in the budget.

              (2) Yes they have gotten by through heroic behind the scenes work by others as already mentioned. That is hardly a reason to describe the situation as a new space victory, which you may remember is where this discussion started.

              “…NASA does now have the ability to use competition through multiple providers to help insure resupply costs are as low as possible.)

              Perhaps, but with the first contract they ended up agreeing to pay $80,000/kg (when SpaceX had talked figures as low as $900/kg during the COTS phase) and as you note will now pay even more.

              Additionally the new contract does not specify number of missions, total up mass, cost/flight or any other kind of metric by which performance can be judged.

              If you are one of the service providers that is a pretty good deal.

              If you are paying for the services it does not inspire confidence.

              • The lack of performance metrics on the new contract is foolish and almost certainly evidence of political pressures at work. (or something else I’m unaware of)

                I don’t believe the “new space victory” being claimed here is SpaceX’s performance on the CRS contract.

                I believe the “victory” is the successiful landing of the 1st stage on the barge. From my point of view, “victory” is a bit strong. Calling it a milestone for SpaceX is resonalble (it IS SpaceX’s goal after all, not NASA’s)

          • The other answer would be, It all depends.

            If the price is really good, and the goods non-critical, you may be thrilled anyways.

            If the price is good, but the goods are time-sensitive, depending on how good of price and how time-sensitive, you could feel anywhere from angry/cheated to reasonably pleased.

            If there are few other options, you may be displeased but accepting.

            From my point of view, the second scenario seems the most applicable here. But, I lack the inside knowledge required to determine in those at NASA feel cheated or reasonably pleased.

            However, I expect NASA to keep schedule reliability in mind when considering SpaceX/Orbital Sciences or a new entrant for any new contracts.

            • “However, I expect NASA to keep schedule reliability in mind when considering SpaceX/Orbital Sciences or a new entrant for any new contracts.”

              You would like to think so, but as mentioned above the new contract does not appear to delineate any discernible schedule with which to compare actual performance.

              Therefore we will never be able to hold such a discussion about the new contract.

              If someone asserts that the providers are under performing, their defenders need only reply – “Compared to what?”

              The perfect contract for the provider. 🙂

  1. “With the arrival of CRS-8, this will mark the first occasion that as many as six visiting vehicles—whether piloted or unpiloted—have been simultaneously in residence at the ISS.”

    Beg to differ …

    From February 26, 2011 until March 7, 2011 Soyuz TMA-01M, Soyuz TMA-20, HTV-2 (Kounotori 2), Progress M-09M, ATV-2 (Johannes Kepler), and STS-133 (Discovery) were docked at the ISS.

    • This has been a difficult couple of days for Gary. Friday, SpaceX lands booster stage on ASDS. Then if it couldn’t get any worse yesterday ULA announces partnership, however sketchy, with Bigelow Aerospace to commercialize LEO. This is not how the master plan was suppose to work.

  2. I need help understanding….

    “Liftoff of the CRS-8 mission—flown under the language of the initial $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract,”

    That was for 12 flights which $1.6B/12 = $134M. SpaceX and the media talk about $60M flight cost and now with a the reuse of stage 1 $40M. What is the difference between the two numbers? Is the cost of the Dragon cargo vessel and return to earth the reason for the additional funds? Are there development costs being paid for by NASA to SpaceX? When the Dragon is returned to Earth, who owns it, SpaceX or NASA? Does NASA get a discount if it uses a previously used booster? Is the CRS agreement public information, can I view it?

    • (1) The explanations I have heard for more than doubling of the $60M figure is the cost of integration (in the case of an ISS mission that is Dragon costs, but there are others for other types of missions). It should be noted that if SpaceX ever delivers on the payload stated in the original CRS contract the cost will be $80,000/kg. During the COTS phase they routinely talked about $900/kg. It is best to keep that in mind when evaluating SpaceX promises.

      (2) An interesting point about Falcon 9 first stage reuse. SpaceX’s Shotwell, in two separate interviews, has said that:
      (a) The payload penalty for reuse of the stage is 30%.
      (b) The cost savings for first stage reuse (assuming no refurbishment required) is 30%.

      Assuming that is accurate the cost per pound to put a payload into orbit will be exactly the same for expendable vs. reusable Falcon 9.

      Independent analysis puts the payload penalty in the 35% to 40% range and it is very optimistic to assume no required refurbishment for a set of Kerosene/Oxygen engines.

      It is entirely possible (even likely) that reusing the first stage will make Falcon 9 launches more (not less) expensive.

      • Joe,
        “(2) An nterestng pont about Falcon 9 frst stage reuse. SpaceX’s Shotwell, n two separate ntervews, has sad that:
        (a) The payload penalty for reuse of the stage s 30%.
        (b) The cost savngs for frst stage reuse (assumng no refurbshment requred) s 30%.”

        So the only savings is the 30% cost if you don’t need the full 14.5 Tons LEO and say they only need 10 Tons to LEO? Do you think first stage proportional cost is only $20M? Seems like it should be 60%

        • Tracy,

          There are undoubtedly be payloads that fall into the range that would be able to take advantage of the hypothetical discount, but even if that happens that would be a limited market; not the paradigm shifting breakthrough that is so often talked about.

          I have no way of costing SpaceX hardware, that is the reason I used Shotwell’s figures. No way to know how accurate they are, but it would seem safe to assume they are intended to put the situation in the best possible light.

      • Who pays for launch services on a per-pound basis? Why does this figure of merit carry any weight if no one uses it in the business of securing launch services?

        • As stated to Tracy above: There are undoubtedly payloads that fall into the range that would be able to take advantage of the hypothetical discount, but even if that happens that would be a limited market; not the paradigm shifting breakthrough that is so often talked about.

          The more important promises of new space usually revolve around orbital propellant depots. There the mass delivered/cost would be extremely important. But then maybe you don’t care about that and are only interested in a relatively small subset of the currently existing satellite market.

          • I care about starting somewhere on the orbital delivery continuum with economical reuse. I don’t hate BO at all as well; like what they are doing. Just think it degrades the work anyone has made ULA, Russia, Orbital or SpaceX to get to orbit to compare sub-orbital players with them. One day Blue will be there i’m sure but the slower pace is likely if they stick with the existing funding model. Also helps for a lot of people that Blue doesn’t ruffle any feathers in the existing space business (for now at least).

            If SpaceX can re-use first stage for payload delivery to LEO on a regular basis let alone GTO payload that is a huge deal regardless what fans or haters say. I agree prop depot, like rail cars of gravel, would make sense to analyze in dollars per pound unit of merit. SpaceX to this date has not pushed that philosophy and if they do going forward, on mars architecture, it would not be for F9 but much larger vehicle. The biggest players in prop depot plans these days are the ULA crowd with ACES (I guess they are New Space now since founded in 2006 😉

            • OK we are staring to repeat ourselves, so one more round for me on this only.

              With the exception of payloads within a very narrow mass range (based on what public information is available) it is very unlikely that reuse of the Falcon 9 first stage (if it can be done) is going to make economic sense.

              I have nothing against the concept of economical reusable earth surface to orbit transports. To the contrary, I sincerely hope they eventually become a reality. However for a number of reasons (the use of kerosene as propellant being one of them) it is unlikely that the Falcon 9 is going to be such a vehicle.

              My interest in Blue Origin is in the BE-3/BE-4 engines. It is possible (note not a sure thing but possible) they will form the basis of a reliable/economical earth surface to orbit system. They certainly have the potential to support reusable systems through out cis-lunar space. It is true that Blue Origins approach is slower, but they have a better chance of getting there.

    • Yes, the 60M number is for commercial sat delivery, not including Dragon/Dragon recovery.

  3. Joe,
    So the only net achievement is going to be of time. If spaceX can reuse the booster core they will be able to increase their launch schedule while increasing the profit margin. Surely the actually cost of the 9 engine booster is worth more than 30% of the cost unless there is some type of amortized reserve process going on here… So this is a win for SpaceX…Not so much for the Customer…If the customer pays $60+/-M for 14.5 Tons its the same as paying $40+/-M for 10.2 Tons. The cost to LEO has not changed on a $/LB basis with the F9R.

    • Tracy,

      Last round on this one for me:

      (1) How much time might/might not be saved by reusing a stage would depend on the turnaround time required to re-fly the stage and how that compared to time to manufacture a new stage. Musk used to talk about a one day turnaround, but recently talked of it taking several weeks. Who knows what it would really be.

      (2) As already stated there is no publicly available information to assess the cost of individual pieces of SpaceX hardware. That is why I accepted Shotwell’s numbers as a basis for analysis as that would likely be a best case scenario for SpaceX.

      We have pretty much exhausted this subject until more information becomes available.

      • Dude, is your ‘i’ key not working? And did you have a conversation with yourself (Ben)? I noticed his responses omit the letter ‘i’ as well.

        • Dude, if you paid any attention you would know that the lower case “I” is not working for anyone on this website(you could for instance read your own pointless post above).

          Check back if you ever put together enough brain cells to have something useful to say.

          • But Joe, how would I know it wasn’t on my post unless I posted it? Also, you seem like a very angry man. Do you have issues you would like to talk about?

            • Actually I am a very happy type.

              I am, however, too busy to waste anymore time on a pathetic internet Troll looking for attention.

              Post your drivel as much as the moderators will allow, but you will have to look elsewhere to try to justify your meaningless existence.

              • Tell me, do you often respond to criticism with extreme hostility? Where do you think this originates from?

  4. Guys,
    Does this recent SpaceX development mean that…

    A. LM will finally get the X-33 out of moth balls and turn it into the SSTO VentureStar? (with its 22.5 Ton Mass to LEO ability for $20M)
    B. The SLS will now be put on the on the “Back Burner” and allowed to die?
    C. The Russians who shot down CRS 7 will now charge NASA $150M per seat to ISS?
    D. All of the Above.

        • Yeah, I actually like Tracy (seems a well intentioned sort), just wish they could be broken of the “Russians who shot down CRS 7” conspiracy theory stuff.

    • Do you actually believe the Russians shot down CRS-7?
      If so, why would SpaceX spend all the time and money finding and fixing faulty struts, when they could just claim it was the Russian’s fault and not have to fix anything?

      Also there are A LOT of cameras watching these launches as well as range radar etc, you would think they would have seen some evidence of foul play. It is in SpaceX’s best interest to be able to claim it was Russia’s fault. If there were any credible evidence they would jump on it. It would allow they to keep the success record of the Falcon 9 free of any complete failures (or at least free of ones where it a launch vehicle issue)

      • Ben,
        Directly admitting that the Russians shot down CRS7 would require a response from the DOD. The DOD, NASA, WH and Congress all looked the other way as an unnamed supplier that created a part that failed a less than 20% of design weight was the culprit. Russia is going to be the main entity that suffers the most because of competition from the reduced launch costs of SpaceX…And the entire industry as they move to compete with SpaceX. The X-33 was intentionally shelved and not allowed to come to market. It will be now…being part of the MOB, Russia does not compete they beat with any tool at their disposal. It doesn’t help that we have President in the White House who is using “Carrots” and as such encourages this behavior. Hence you can expect that the “Seat Fees” to Russia for the ISS will be going up…

        • Why would “DOD, NASA, WH, and Congress” even have to “look the other way”? only NASA was even involved in the investigation. If the Russians were actually involved, sure those other Agencies/groups would be pulled in too, but then they wouldn’t be looking the other way…

          The “entire industry” will continue to respond as it has been. SpaceX has brought a launch vehicle to market with a very low price to the customers. Going from $60m to $40m will probably only effect the lower end of the market. Atlas/Delta/Ariane launches are still more reliable and more expensive. For a billion dollar spacecraft, a $20m price reduction is irrelevant.

          The competing lower cost providers will continue trying to reduce costs. Since the $60m price was already low, they may not be able to do much more than they already are to reduce costs.

          As for the X-33, LM will revive that program if/when they feel it makes sense financially. NASA provided the majority of the funding for the program and when NASA pulled funding LM decided it was no longer worth continuing. (LM likes milking the government for their R&D funding, see F-35) Since it seems unlikely that NASA is going to resume funding a program canceled 15 years ago, I seriously doubt LM will restart it either. (after all a lot of the people who worked on it, probably don’t even work there anymore…)

          Sure the cost/seat of flights will continue to rise… until another option is available. I believe NASA has already purchased seats for the next couple years. After that point the CST-100 and/or the Dragon 2 should be ready. So NASA probably won’t be buying many more seats before a domestic option is available… (unless there are delays etc)

          So raising the next contracts price seems irrelevant. I suppose they could violate the contract and demand more money, but I doubt Russia/Roscosmos wishes to waste that much political capital on a few hundred million dollars…

          • Ben,
            This is just the beginning…You do realize that the FH will see a major launch cost reduction as well…The SLS will launch twice which includes the Two Cores as part of development and that will be the end of it as FH will be $60M launching 40 mass Tons to LEO…Who will compete with that? LM will by using the Venture Star by launching 66 Tons to LEO for $60M in three launches…Or Whoever buys the tech from LM (because LM is not able make it work) … Follow the money ….its always the money

            • Do you have any evidence that LM is actually planning on restarting the Venture Star? The X-33 was a sub-scale technology demonstrator for the Venture Star. The X-33 program was cancelled before the first test flight. What makes you think LM is going to restart the development of a vehicle that was so far from complete?

              We don’t know whether or not SLS will be canceled after 2 launches. Saying that it will only launch twice is premature unless NASA or Congress or whoever has stated that “the program will canceled after the 2nd launch” or some such. I get that lots of pro-NewSpace folks think that SLS is practically canceled already, but I haven’t seen the evidence of that. Perhaps you would like to provide some?

              • Ben,
                I have nothing other than my “Gut” which tells me that LM “shelfed” the Venture Star to save it for a rainy day or when they were forced to use because why would they go cheaper when they can make so much more with ELVs…

                Your right SLS will not be Cancelled until …SpaceX launches the FH lands all three cores then reuses those cores again 10 times each without engine replacement…Which will establish a $60M launch cost or even less..

                • Tracy,

                  Have mentioned this before and it did no good, so it will probably not again; but you set unrealistic expectations and then are disappointed when they are not met.

                  Then you develop conspiracy theories to explain the fact.

                  You seem well intentioned, it is a shame you insist on frustrating yourself.

                • The falcon heavy will only be able to launch at most ~45 tons to LEO. The smallest(!) SLS will launch 70 tons to LEO. The largest planned will launch 130 tons to LEO.

                  The SLS will also have a LOX/LH2 upper stage which will greatly improve it’s payload to >LEO destinations when compared to the falcon heavy.

                  Will falcon heavy be much cheaper than SLS on a per launch basis? sure.
                  But the falcon heavy simply cannot launch payloads > 45 tons.

                  Could multiple launches combined with on-orbit re-fueling/assembly be used to offset this? Maybe, but that adds complications (read: cost & mass).

                  I don’t see anyone using 2 falcon 9 launches instead on one Delta IV heavy launch, even though they would deliver roughly the same payload at a significantly reduced cost.

                  Also funding for SLS is controlled by Congress. If SLS is cancelled in the next year, I would expect it to be due to a change in Congress/President not due to falcon heavy/falcon 9 reusability.

            • “FH will be $60M launching 40 mass Tons…”

              Actually SpaceX appears to be saying Falcon Heavy launches will be in the $85M – $135M range, but then they used to say the Falcon 9 was going to fly for $27M/launch.

              • Joe,
                And ULA using the Atlas 5 will launch 20 Tons for under $100M in….2018…What a bargin…If the F9 is at $40M for 10 TONS on the first reuse core…What will it be after 10 launches?….20 launches? $30M… $20M…The Russians must be ____ing there pants!!!

                • Probably $40m. SpaceX doesn’t have much incentive to reduce the price further. 40m is already much cheaper than the competition. For those that price is a primary driver, $40m is low enough for now.

      • Ben,
        Check out the latest news story…


        This is how the MOB works…Continued Harassment..

        I suggest that so long as the US is “paying” Russia for “overpriced Space services” such as $75M Soyez seats to ISS or $100M RD 180 after production and licensing fees, Russia will be our “Partner”.

        To think that in the 1990s with the breakup of the USSR..We could have owned Russia…But no…somebody thought it would be better to rebuild it..

        • I’m aware Russia and the US are not on the best of terms right now. While that makes it marginally less far fetched to claim they shot down a resupply mission, the claim is still pretty far fetched…

          Haven’t seen any recent source on the RD-180 price, but I doubt it is $100 million.

          Here is a news story from 2001 with a $10 million price per engine:

          Do you have any source for your claim of $100 million per engine?

              • Prove? hmmm

                It certainly presents solid evidence that SpaceX is forcing it’s competitor Roscosmos to reduce prices, but that doesn’t mean they’re shooting down rockets. And it does have that statement from Putin saying “take measures to protect its market position”

                If Russia shot down the resupply mission, I still don’t see why it would be kept quiet.

                • Ben,

                  “My family fears Russia will assassinate me [first],” he told a Bloomberg reporter last year.

                  Roscosmos is doomed and Putin knows it…

                  “A slow, state-owned, ineffective and mostly non-market oriented company is, simply speaking, incapable of competing with SpaceX and other agile private space companies,” says Pavel Luzin, a space industry expert at Perm State University.

                  What else is Russia going to do to slow down SpaceX? Take a look again at that buzzing of the US ship in the Baltic Sea…Or their Syria operation that has sent millions of people to the west… Shooting down CRS 7 is child’s play for Putin..

                  • You’ll notice I never argued that Russia couldn’t shoot down a CRS mission. What I said was that I don’t think Russia did/would, and that if they did, I don’t think it would be kept quiet/covered up.

                    I’m not convinced that Russia could shoot down a CRS mission in such a way that it could even be covered up. i.e. They probably have a missile that could do it, but that would have been seen by the media and thus impossible to cover up, etc.

                    After all, shooting down the CRS mission would effectively be an act of war. I don’t think Russia wants to open that can of worms. Look how much shit they got in for doing it with Ukraine in a semi-deniable fashion. Ukraine is not part of NATO and Russia still got some serious sanctions put on them.

                    Why would Russia risk further sanctions for a few hundred million dollars? The sanctions could easily cost Russia far more than that.

                    On the other hand, assassinating Elon Musk is entirely deniable and may sufficiently delay/destabilize SpaceX to do Roscosmos some good. It would probably also be cheaper that the missile/laser/whatever supposedly used to shoot down CRS-7.

                    Thus, I would consider an assassination attempt on Elon Musk much more likely than Russia shooting down CRS missions.

                    • ““My family fears Russia will assassinate me [first],” he told a Bloomberg reporter last year.”

                      Musk has a tendency to overstate things. This would certainly seem to be one of those situations.

                      “Thus, I would consider an assassination attempt on Elon Musk much more likely than Russia shooting down CRS missions.”

                      Now you have done it, Ben. If Musk so much as gets a hangnail Tracy will be convinced that it is the result of an assassination attempt.

                    • I knew I should have left the “Not that I consider either very likely” phrase in. Oh well…

                  • Also, Roscosmos get the large majority of it’s funding from the Russian government. (see the article you linked)

                    Russia is simply not going to let is Space launch industry fail.

                    If SpaceX falcon 9 launches magically became $250k tomorrow, Roscosmos (or at least the Russian space launch industry) would not fail. They would simply no longer be launching commercial missions in a year or three.

                    Due lower priced lauchers being available ULA has launched very few commercial missions over the last decade. EXACTLY the situation were talking about…

                    • Ben

                      Per your comments….
                      “I’m not convnced that Russa could shoot down a CRS msson n such a way that t could even be covered up. .e. They probably have a mssle that could do t, but that would have been seen by the meda and thus mpossble to cover up, etc.”

                      Don’t you think Russia has laser or beam or Microwave weapons? Like the US? Which are invisible to the naked eye? Obama has done everything in his power NOT to engage Russia on anything…Maybe because Russia and China are trying to determine US capabilities in a very serious way…All of which seem very very dangerous.

                      All true except that…

                      “Roscosmos counts on this market position to supplement its government funding. Over the next ten years, it has predicted some 230 billion rubles ($3.5 billion) income from foreign customers, which compares to state funding of 1.4 trillion ruble ($21 billion).

                      With SpaceX already eroding Russia’s standing in the global space industry, it is not currently clear that Roscosmos can meet that goal.”

                      Without Question Russia will lose their position in the Commercial launch sector… And the foreign dollars they need to offset the low price of oil..

                    • They probably do. But, those weapons all need line of sight, and the longer the range, the more obvious the beam and the projector.

                      I would expect the use of that powerful of directed energy weapon would be noticed. Perhaps not, but again, would Russia take that risk?

                      3.5 billion out of 21 billion to come from foreign investment… over TEN years. First of all that is only 17% of their budget. Losing it would hurt, but it wouldn’t cripple them.

                      Russian oil revenues were ~ $430 Billion in 2012 and were ~$220 Billion in 2015. Roscosmos is expected to bring in an average of $0.35 Billion per year in foreign investment… Kinda a drop in the bucket.

              • Accusing other is an old method of avoiding responsibility for one’s own mistakes. Thankfully, SpaceX and the rest of the world aren’t that irresponsible.

    • E. None of the above as Joe said. OMG two agreements in a callender month Joe, we’ll have to work on that.

      • Yes, it is kind of scary, next thing you know we will be agreeing on the value of Lunar ISRU – Oh, wait, I think we already do. 🙂

        • Ironically, a friend of mine just posted an idea that makes ISRU likely to be more effective in some fields. Centrifugal separation of isotopes has the potential to be far simpler and cheaper in vacuum than on Earth. Caps for spelling SELENIANBOONDOCKS.COM. He calls it hypergravity.

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