Humble Arrogance For an Inspiring Mission

The Orion flew today for the first time.

The hype and hoopla surrounding this flight was about what you would expect from an agency that is spent so many years and billions getting to this point. If you listen to the media releases it would seem that this is the start of our expansion into the entire solar system with the development of science and exploration to follow.

Those of us that have followed the development and cost of this program, question the value of this flight, especially in relation to the price tag and excessively long schedule. It will be at least 8 to 10 years before astronauts will fly on this vehicle to any destination worthwhile or not, totaling decades from concept to manned test flight.

It would be interesting if SpaceX could do a little trick to upstage the hype and hoopla of the flight of the Orion. If one of the Dragon capsules could be sent around the moon and reenter from there, that would capture the imagination of people that know where the moon is but have no concept of how far 3600 miles from Earth is. I suggest they do this with one of the Dragon One capsules that has already been to the international space station. Demonstration of reusability would be clearly demonstrated in a most spectacular manner.

Justification for this flight could be as simple as Elon Musk claiming, without attribution, that his detractors in Congress are questioning the ability of his vehicles to safely carry humans, especially to the distances expected of Orion. Properly done, he might even get NASA to pay for it. By doing it in a humble manner to address the issues that people claim that his vehicles have, he could actually pretend to be in a very defensive position about the flight, which afterwards would stand in stark contrast to a vehicle that only went 3600 miles into space after 10 years and as many billion dollars.

The cargo Dragon would obviously be unmanned, as was the Orion flew today. For the general public it could easily be a distinction without a difference that the Dragon One is not a human rated capsule after you clearly show people from the International Space Station inside it loading and unloading cargo. The Dragon One is clearly capable of housing humans in space as witnessed by the international space station astronauts. It can be shown to have astronauts inside it in space, which the Orion cannot do.

A Dragon capsule which had been to the international space station and back, which afterwards flew to the moon and back, would demonstrate reusability, deep space capability, and a willingness to take risks. This would stand in stark contrast to the Orion that flew today, and the organizations that were responsible for that flight.

The time to do this for flight would be after NASA, Lockheed, and Boeing, have had enough time to emphasize their superiority in space flight based on the Orion test flight.Then do a simple series of press releases which emphasizes that the Lunar flight was simply a test flight to prove the equipment. Now we know the heat shield will work, and that our navigation is sufficient unto the task. Them very humbly refuse to compare it publicly to the Orion, and let the voting public do that for themselves.

If it is possible to fly a Dragon Two on this mission with a simple Falcon Nine, an argument could be made that SpaceX has surpassed NASA on its own turf. Especially a Dragon Two with crash test dummies inside including the one from MythBusters if possible. The recovery of the dummies from the ocean after they had been around the moon could well be the private enterprise spaceflight Kennedy moment.

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I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.

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29 Responses to Humble Arrogance For an Inspiring Mission

  1. Andrew_W says:

    I think you’re bang on, the hype over this Orion flight has gone right around the world, there’s been waay more coverage than SpaceX’s achievements have gotten, Orion apparently, is taking us to Mars, anytime now. . .

  2. John hare says:

    America Space has a post up that does point out the limitations of this flight. Impressed and surprised I am. Wouldn’t have happened when Jason was there.

  3. George Turner says:

    A Falcon 1.1 is only going to get maybe 7,500 lbs through TLI. I think they could do a flyby if they launched a separate upper stage while the Dragon was docked with the ISS, then mated with it, they could get to the moon and perhaps even make lunar orbit.

    That would test Dragon’s electronics going through both Van Allen belts, whereas the Orion test mission didn’t even make it out of the lower belt. Getting into lunar orbit and returning would doubly upstage the Orion’s EM-1 mission, and having Dragon do so carrying some experiments from both Earth and the ISS and then returning them would be icing on the cake. Such a mission would be a nice pre-cursor to a manned Dragon lunar flight with a Falcon Heavy.

    I suppose the trick is to do it without pissing off the wrong people.

  4. John hare says:

    I think your idea is superior to the original. It demonstrates multi vehicle missions and ropes in support from the ISS faction that prepared theunat payload.

  5. John hare says:

    Lunar payload. iPhone keyboard.

  6. born01930 says:

    So could you have a multipurpose Dragon, one that only stayed in space going from the moon to the ISS? It would have to use aerocapture on the return but wouldn’t that heat shield be significantly lighter than one used to return to earth directly from the moon? Maybe the one they already have would be sufficient? Then have a EOR Dragon that took you up and down from the ISS, making it an actual station rather than a terminal.

  7. Dominic Herity says:

    The benefit of an ISS rendezvous needs to be weighed against its orbital inclination. Two launches and LEO rendezvous at low inclination might work out better. If extra delta v is available and if the Dragon could tolerate it, it could be accelerated to Mars return velocity for re-entry.

  8. Eric Shear says:

    I really like Jon’s idea, but after thinking about it I realize that two things need to happen before Elon can even think about doing this.

    1) Falcon Heavy needs to be available. I can’t see this being done with the Falcon 9. I haven’t run the numbers, but I doubt the Falcon 9 could push a Dragon into TLI. Even if it’s possible, the margin would be low.

    2) SpaceX needs to finish its Texas spaceport first. As long as they have to use NASA facilities for launching their rockets, they’ll have to obtain NASA approval.

  9. johnhare johnhare says:

    The advantage of the ISS connection as suggested by George is that NASA could possibly be talked into sponsoring the mission. It’s not about efficiency or sustainability, it’s about PR and inspiration.

  10. solartear says:

    Do not want to upstage NASA by trying a Dragon around Moon when Elon keeps saying he wants NASA-SpaceX MCT missions to Mars. Maybe in a few years he could do a supposed “Lunar-COTS demonstration” mission, since various governments want a Lunar or EM L2 space station.

    Better to do a demo mission like EFT-1 with a used Dragon, because there is supposed to be a DragonLab mission in next year or two. Do many orbits to get great scientific verification of SpaceX’s radiation mitigration designs.

  11. ken anthony says:

    We know SpaceX could do it which is why they do not need to. Let the Orion crowd continue to make ridiculous claims for their 3 week wonder. Let them do it for the next decade. Meanwhile, SpaceX will continue to make the progress that counts.

    How does Boeing CST-100 avoid their embarrassment between those two?

  12. Rick Boozer says:

    Musk mentioned in February that he plans just such a mission. Listen starting 50 seconds into this interview:

  13. johnhare johnhare says:

    Slightly different. This would be a precursor flight. He was talking about manned.

  14. Your argument seems to be that Space X is a rocket company that is somehow superior to traditional NASA vendors such as Lockheed-Martin (the manufacturers of the Orion), Boeing (the manufacturers of the Delta-IV heavy and upper stage) and the ULA (the folks who launched the Orion mission).

    Now these are private companies that launch most of our military satellites, helped to construct the ISS, manufactured and launched an aerospace plane for more than 30 years that could launch more people into orbit than the Dragon (if it ever does) and a lot more payload. These are also companies who have sent robotic probes past the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and to the surface of Mars. And pretty soon these companies are going to give us spectacular views of Pluto and the asteroid Ceres.

    So what has Space X done that compares with what these traditional NASA vendors have done?

    Well Space X has launched a few satellites to LEO, a few to GEO, and made a few cargo runs to the ISS. But that’s about it!

    Space X has a long way to go before it can have any bragging rights over Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and the ULA.


  15. john hare says:

    Proposing an idea is not the same as arguing it.

    The Orion mission just flown is far more hype than substance.

    Defusing hype is in the best interest of any serious space proponent.

    Cost performance matters if you want real progress.

  16. “Defusing hype is in the best interest of any serious space proponent. Cost performance matters if you want real progress.”

    Well your really not going to get any real progress as long as we have an administration that really doesn’t want NASA to have a– beyond LEO program. And NASA’s not going to have any money for beyond LEO missions by continuing the ISS as a $3 billion a year make-work program for the Commercial Crew companies

    I would have preferred Orion funds to be spent on developing a reusable lunar shuttle for human missions between the Lagrange points and the lunar surface, a vehicle that could have also been used as a reusable orbital transfer vehicle between LEO and the Earth-Moon Lagrange points. That would have allowed future commercial crew vehicles to participate in lunar missions by simply shuttling crews to LEO.

    But, of course, the Obama administration ridiculed the logic of returning humans permanently to the Moon!

    However, there’s little enthusiasm out there for the Obama administration’s mission to an imported meteoroid idea. In fact, I don’t think the President is even serious about it:-)


  17. Andrew_W says:

    Well your[sic] really not going to get any real progress as long as we have an administration that. . .

    Nice sidetrack, people have been supporting SpaceX because they seem to be able to equivalent missions at far less cost than Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and ULA. The expectation of these SpaceX supporters is that as SpaceX undertakes more ambitious missions this cost advantage will continue.

    But you already know this, hence your attempt to distract the discussion away from the issue of value for money.

  18. Anonymous Dude says:

    Forget the dummies – send people around the Moon in a Dragon 1. It’s as safe or safer than a Space Shuttle at launch, and it’s not like Apollo had radiation shelters.

  19. john hare says:

    Sending people around the moon on a first mission in a Dragon 1 would be counterproductive. It would demonstrate to all and sundry that you were willing to risk peoples’ lives on a stunt. Businesses in general and NASA in particular don’t want to do business with careless people. Alienate NASA and scaring off some clients would seriously damage the business.

  20. Eric Shear says:

    Keep in mind that Orion is a deep-space vehicle, with the communications, life support and thermal protection hardware that implies.

    Dragon was not designed as one. That doesn’t mean SpaceX won’t come out with a deep-space variant of Dragon in the future.

  21. “But you already know this, hence your attempt to distract the discussion away from the issue of value for money.”

    Since NASA’s been trapped at LEO for more than 40 years, NASA’s primary focus for its human space program was supposed to be for beyond LEO missions. The current administration had the opportunity to integrate Commercial Crew launches into a beyond LEO architecture. But they didn’t. Instead, they decided to continue an expensive LEO program (the ISS) without providing adequate funding for the beyond LEO program.

    Continuing the ISS program is the most expensive and inefficient way to promote Commercial Crew development. And no NASA efforts in the near future will provide enough human traffic to LEO for more than one or two private companies.

    But NASA could have easily supplied funding for at least three private human spaceflight companies in the near future for half the price of the ISS program if it had offered to pay for the spaceflight tickets of private citizens going to– private space stations– through a lotto or space flight promotional program (sending famous or important individuals into space to promote private spaceflight).

    If the average cost of sending a private citizen to a private space station aboard a private space craft is ~$33 million per passenger then NASA could provide the funding to send 45 private citizens to private space stations every year for just $1.5 billion (half the cost of the ISS program). That’s enough for 9 commercial flights per year vs only 2 or 3 private flights per year to the ISS at a cost that’s twice as much for the tax payers. Taking the super wealthy to these private space stations, of course, would provide even more traffic and more private launches to private space stations on an annual basis. So for half the cost, NASA could have provided funding for the expansion of private launches and private space stations instead of perpetuating the existence of an international big government space station whose existence is still questionable beyond 2020.


  22. Rick Boozer says:

    Eric Shear said, “Keep in mind that Orion is a deep-space vehicle, with the communications, life support and thermal protection hardware that implies. “

    From at least the standpoint of thermal protection, you are incorrect in your assumption that Dragon comes up short. Extracted from a description of Dragon’s heat shield on SpaceX’s website, “… can even withstand the much higher heat of a moon or Mars velocity reentry.”
    From here:

  23. john hare says:

    Eric “Keep in mind that Orion is a deep-space vehicle, with the communications, life support and thermal protection hardware that implies.”

    john: Orion is projected to become a deep space vehicle. The unit that flew last Friday was clearly not. It’s not even capable of carrying people to LEO at this time.

    Eric “Dragon was not designed as one. That doesn’t mean SpaceX won’t come out with a deep-space variant of Dragon in the future.”

    john : The Dragon 2 rolled out a few months ago was equally not ready for prime time as a manned vehicle to LEO. IMO, the Dragon will be deep space capable before Orion.

    My complaint with both parties is the hype as if the vehicles were ready to go when years of development remain before they can fulfill their projected missions.

  24. ken anthony says:

    what has Space X done that compares with what these traditional NASA vendors have done?

    They have an operating vehicle in space that is better than what these traditional companies still have in development. It is only political correctness that keep crew off the existing Dragon. It is a major improvement in the most important specification: mass.

    That the Orion required a D4H should be an embarrassment to everyone involved.

    When the FH comes online next year they will be able to put a DRAGON 1 (even V2 will not be able to land on mars unless a big crater is acceptable.) in mars orbit. Add an inflatable for an Inspiration Mars class mission with 9 tons of supplies as well.

    D3 will be a wide body mars lander if they don’t bypass that for the MCT (which is farther in the future and should not hold up more near term mars missions.)

  25. Zincfinger says:

    My apologies in advance for going on a bit and at times off topic.

    “what has Space X done that compares with what these traditional NASA vendors have done?”

    Well they developed the Falcon 9 1.0 for apx 300 million dollars. They developed the Dragon one for about 400 million I think? These two achievements should have been headline news. They were in my opinion the most significant events in spaceflight since the moon landings.
    The idea that Space X should want to upstage NASA though is quite flawed in my opinion. NASA saved Space X back in 2009 by awarding them a contract when they desperately needed one. NASA has also shared a lot of intel on spaceflight. I suspect that some people within NASA were just fed up with the corporate based looters who kept spaceflight difficult and expensive for the sake of their profits. So they tried something else.
    I think the reason the COTS program slipped through was because it involved so little money that the Lobbyists didn’t care. You can just imagine their response. “270 million? My guys wouldn’t get out of bed for that amount!” Then the unthinkable happened. Space X made their Falcon 9 and Dragon 1 and anyone paying attention was stunned. But instead of questions like “How could they possibly achieve this with that amount of money? “ or “What the hell have you guys been doing with our money for the last 40 years?!” The media had no comment on it. Perhaps that’s for the best because Space X didn’t really comment on it either. Sure, Qwen Shotwell (Space X CO) has mentioned it a couple of times during her talks but they continue to praise NASA and show gratitude for their continued assistance. So I think that Space X and NASA have a wee agreement. NASA continues to assist Space X and Space X doesn’t do anything to embarrass NASA. Well at least beyond the hideously embarrassing cheap and speedy progress that Space X is making.
    In my view the Orion as well as the SLS are a complete waste of time and money. They are already obsolete, incredibly expensive and quite obviously a complete disgrace. I understand the need to maintain a highly skilled workforce but get them to build something useful!
    As for traditional NASA vendors, their greatest achievements were the business contracts they got for the Shuttle and the ISS. They really were remarkable. They sold the tax payer on a space truck that would cost 10 million a launch and would do so 50 times a year. Instead you got a very dangerous LEO system that cost between 200 to 400 million a launch and could only launch about 5 times a year. They couldn’t even claim good safety made the cost worth it. The total bill was around 200 billion. The ISS? Originally billed at 8 to 12 billion dollars for development, it went beyond 100 billion and that was for a compromised design. Only now with that lovely joint strike fighter project have they surpassed these triumphs. Half a trillion dollars and rising? Listen closely and you may just hear the champagne glasses clinking.

  26. johnhare johnhare says:

    NASA is not a monolithic entity. There are factions in the agency that would gain from such a stunt.

  27. DougSpace says:

    > So I think that Space X and NASA have a wee agreement. NASA continues to assist Space X and Space X doesn’t do anything to embarrass NASA.

    Let’s remember that Lori Garver was perhaps the leading proponent for commercial space programs in Obama’s NASA. Also, Congress has sequentially increased funding for the public-private programs. So I don’t think that SpaceX’s success with the F9 for so little NASA financial support caused a shock reaction from opponents to the extent that they shut down any further funding. Yes, there clearly is some resistance from certain congressmen but overall there is sufficient and growing support for the public-private programs and it certainly seems that the Administration and NASA are very much in support of growing the public-private programs.

    I think that SpaceX truly appreciates NASA beyond just a cynical approach to not biting the hand that feeds you. COTS may have saved Elon and SpaceX. It was getting very close to the edge until SpaceX found out it had won the COTS contract. NASA has also been very unburdensome with just a few staff at the facility. Also, I believe that SpaceX has had access to some NASA facilities and expertise. So, when Elon says that he appreciates NASA, I bet that he really means it.

  28. ” I suggest they do this with one of the Dragon One capsules that has already been to the international space station.”

    This primate would gladly volunteer :):):)

  29. Mike S says:

    What bothers me the most is that NASA sold the truck as the giant RV capable of doing anything…as if they were ONLY talking to humble dum americans, but I believe most knew better! Than their next move is a music video performed by so called interns? That final move alone proves their intended audience. They should have been direct and honest, we built the truck first, now were gong to concentrate on the trailer (habitat module) and than think about replaceing the rocket (Delta IV heavy) that just proved it can do exactly what we need the multi billion dollars rocket to do! I swear they keep stepping in it and don’t realize what their smelling, just to go off and step into it again!

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