Why SpaceX won’t propulsively land their Dragon capsule. Not on Earth. Not on Mars.
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Why SpaceX won’t propulsively land their Dragon capsule. Not on Earth. Not on Mars.


Hi, it’s me Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut! Elon Musk recently announced that SpaceX is
no longer pursuing propulsive landings with their Dragon 2 capsule. Not on Earth and not on Mars. And although this might be a bummer for those
of us who loved the thought of a truly sci-fi esque spaceship landing. Today we’re going to talk about the challenges
surrounding propulsive landings and why sending a Dragon capsule to Mars for a mission dubbed
Red Dragon, is no longer the best plan. Let’s get started! To date SpaceX has flown their cargo carrying
Dragon spacecraft to the international space station 12 times. And although we’re just around the corner
from seeing SpaceX launch the second generation of Dragon, Dragon 2, there’s one key aspect
that’s been cancelled. The ability to land itself using rocket engines
instead of parachutes. This also means there are no plans to send
the Dragon 2 to Mars… Now before we get into exactly why SpaceX
is moving on from propulsive landings, let’s take a look at how the Dragon was born. Ohh there it is, it’s just a little egg! Oh and it hatched! Look how proud Elon is with his little baby
Dragon. And there it is with its first bath! Look how clean it is out there in the ocean
all wet. The Dragon Capsule has been with SpaceX almost
as long as SpaceX has existed. In 2004, the budding aerospace company had
yet to even launch a rocket when they first began to develop their Dragon Spacecraft. At the time SpaceX’s plans were to get their
feet wet by launching their first rocket, the Falcon 1. SpaceX also had plans to eventually build
a more powerful version, a Falcon 1e and a 5 engined rocket called Falcon 5. Neither rocket left the drawing board. In 2005, NASA asked for proposals for an International
Space Station cargo vehicle to replace the soon to be retired Space Shuttle. SpaceX submitted a proposal to use their Dragon
Capsule in March 2006 and later that year, NASA announced that SpaceX was chosen along
side Kistler Aerospace to conduct three demonstration flights. Come 2008 after 3 failed attempts to get a
Falcon 1 into orbit, NASA would soon announce who would win the Commercial Resupply contracts. With SpaceX down to their last penny, literally
everything fell on the shoulders of Falcon 1 flight 4. Lucky for SpaceX and all of us SpaceX fans,
on August 28th, 2008, SpaceX prevailed to get their fourth Falcon 1 into a perfect orbit. Just two months later, perhaps due to increased
confidence in SpaceX’s abilities, NASA awarded awarded a 1.6 billion dollar contract to launch
12 flights to the International Space Station. The first Dragon Capsule to fly on June 4th
2010 wasn’t a full mission-capable version. Instead, to test basic functionality, SpaceX
launched a stripped-down version known as a boilerplate. The mission was a complete success and was
also the first flight of SpaceX’s mighty Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon’s next flight, on December 8th,
2010 would be the first full test of the Dragon Spacecraft for SpaceX’s first NASA Commercial
Orbital Transportation Services contract or COTS 1. Following its success SpaceX got permission
to actually berth with the International Space Station for the next mission COTS 2. Berthing is sort of like docking, but for
berthing the International Space Station actually grabs onto the spacecraft and pulls it in,
instead of the vehicle maneuvering all the way up to the docking port and docking with
it. Nearly 18 months later, on May 25th, 2012,
SpaceX became the first private company to berth with the International Space Station. 6 days later, the Dragon undocked from the
ISS. It safely deorbited, splashed down and was
recovered in the Pacific Ocean. Since then, SpaceX has launched 12 more Commercial
Resupply missions to the ISS. 11 of which were completed successfully. The only failure was for CRS-7, which was
lost during ascent on June 28th, 2015.. Despite the breakup of the Falcon 9 rocket,
the Dragon capsule would have come out mostly unscathed had it had a command to open the
parachutes after break up, a command that is now in place if another similar event were
to ever occur. Although SpaceX has only been launching cargo
to the ISS, their plans have been to launch humans all along. They’ve essentially been practicing with
cargo so they’ll have already demonstrated many of the crucial components when it comes
time to fly with crew onboard. The original plan for a crew dragon was to
use the Dragon capsule with integrated launch abort motors called SuperDracos mounted on
the side walls. This initial version was known as DragonRider. Following DragonRider, SpaceX unveiled their
update, Dragon 2 on May 29th, 2014 at a very flashy press event at SpaceX’s Headquarters
in Hawthorne California showing off the beautifully updated and very 21st century spacecraft. The ability to propulsively land aligns with
SpaceX’s long term goal of getting people to Mars. Due to Mar’s thin atmosphere, parachutes
become much less effective than here on Earth and with something as big and heavy as a Dragon
capsule, which weighs around 6,400 kg or 14,000 pounds, propulsive landing is necessary. Even the much lighter Mars Curiosity Rover
landed using a mixture of parachutes and propulsive landing. Weighing in at 899 kg’s or 1,982 pounds,
it’s the heaviest thing to have landed on Mars to date. Perhaps my favorite thing about those SuperDraco
motors is that they’re not just there for landing, but they’re also there for crew
safety. Most crewed vehicles have had launch abort
towers to pull the crew capsule to safety in the event of a problem with the rocket. Exceptions to this were the Gemini Capsule
which had ejection seats, yeah ejection seats, and the Space Shuttle, which actually had
ejection seats for the first 4 flights but were then removed. SpaceX has tested the SuperDraco’s ability
to do a pad abort on May 6th, 2015. Despite one of the 8 SuperDracos underperforming,
the Dragon 2 still accelerated to 100 mph or 62 km/h in just 1.2 seconds and reached
a maximum speed of 345 mph or 555 km/h. Once the motors push the vehicle to safety,
the Dragon deploys its parachutes and makes a splash down just a few miles into the ocean. At the beginning of 2018, SpaceX will perform
an inflight abort test where they will use the SuperDracos to pull away from a Falcon
9 booster at maximum aerodynamic pressure, the point at which the pressure is the greatest
on the vehicle. That’ll be really exciting to see! So all this said, why is it that SpaceX cancelled
the coolest aspect of the Dragon 2? What changed? On July 19th, 2017, Elon Musk gave us an update
about Dragon 2 at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference. During the talk Elon officially let the cat
out of the bag stating: Dragon 2 is capable of landing propulsively,
um and uh, technically it still is. We’ve deleted the little legs that pop out
of the heat shield. But it’s technically still capable of doing
it. The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily
is because it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety. Particularly for crew transport and then there
was a time when I thought that the Dragon approach to landing on Mars where we’ve got
a base heat shield and side-mounted thrusters would be the right way to land on Mars. But um, now I’m pretty confident that is not
the right way. Um and that there’s a far better approach
and that’s what the next generation of SpaceX rockets and spacecraft is gonna do. Let’s start off with that “technically
it can still land propulsively” thing. SpaceX decided to no longer have landing legs
that protrude through the heat shield. Although this has been done before, such as
the landing gear on the Space Shuttle, it still ends up being quite the nightmare to
qualify for human and cargo safety. Of course it could be done with the right
amount of time and money, but then we get to our next point. What is really gained by doing propulsive
landings here on Earth? The benefits don’t seem to outweigh the
costs. Granted, there’s money to be saved by not
having to send out a ship and helicopter out to recover the vehicle for an ocean splashdown,
but what would the cost savings be per mission vs the cost of trying to research, develop
and certify an Earth propulsive landing? On the other hand, as of CRS-11 SpaceX has
committed to refurbishing and reflying Dragon Capsules Refurbishing a Dragon that landed on land
and not having to refurbish one that landed in salt water probably does save some money
but, my feeling is it would take a very very long time to have the savings outweigh the
cost. And by then, SpaceX just might be onto something bigger
and better… which brings us to the next point. As Elon stated, landing a capsule on Mars
is not the best way to land on Mars. They’ve already shown us how their Interplanetary
Transportation System or Big Falcon Ship will most likely reenter and land and that maneuver
looks nothing like a how a dragon capsule would land. So why would they spend the millions of dollars
to lob a Dragon capsule to Mars if it’s just a proof of concept that doesn’t advance
their long term goals? I have a feeling that those people who were
paying close attention to SpaceX when they cancelled the Falcon 5 in favor of Falcon
9 were similarly disappointed and skeptical. Yet can you imagine if SpaceX had continued
to develop their Falcon 5 and waste all that time and money chasing a system that would
simply be pointless alongside the Falcon 9? I have a feeling that’s how we’ll look
back at the Red Dragon someday once we see a Big Falcon Ship land on Mars. Lastly let’s not forget. The Dragon capsule was designed to ferry cargo
and crew to the International Space Station first and foremost. It still is performing a very critical task
which it was designed and built for. Although it’s physically capable of doing
more, perhaps a more refined and focused vehicle for interplanetary missions is all around
a better and more sustainable plan. I have a feeling when Elon updates us this
year at the International Astronautical Congress on the Big Falcon Rocket and Big Falcon Ship,
we’ll gain a lot more perspective on why they’re cancelling Red Dragon. I’m honestly expecting them to show off
a next generation vehicle that can function as a new work horse here on Earth to make
money, but is even more capable of missions to Mars. With IAC only a week away, expect a new video
from me all about the cool things we learn from the update. So in summary, yes, we’re all a little sad
we won’t see a Dragon 2 propulsively land at Kennedy Space Center followed by astronauts
getting out wearing SpaceX’s awesome new spacesuits… But SpaceX changing their mind and being nimble
enough to shift resources is what separates them from more traditional aerospace entity. We’ve seen the opposite be true with vehicles
like the Space Shuttle and SLS where an idea is continually pursued despite it not being
the most viable option. Instead, NASA, or should I say congress, falls
into the same old fallacy of being “so far along in something that it’d be a shame
to stop it now”, which in the long run costs so much more than just pivoting and moving
on as soon as you can. In an upcoming video, I’ll be comparing
the development of the Space Shuttle vs the development of the Falcon 9 in which we’ll
focus on this topic more. That being said, make sure you’re subscribed
so you can join the discussion when we continue this conversation and as we learn more about
the future of SpaceX’s plans for Mars. Also remember I live host SpaceX launches
starting about 30 minutes before lift off! So come ask questions and join in the conversation
live! As always, a big huge thank you to my Patreon
supporters for helping make this and other Everyday Astronaut content possible. I owe a special thanks to those Patrons in
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for free at soundcloud.com/everydayastronaut Tell a friend! Thanks everybody, that does it for me. I’m Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut. Bringing space down to earth for everyday
people.

31 Comments

  • NyanCat874

    um………… i think it COULD work with the parachutes half-deployed… but we could use the old way of recovering on earth. and i think you could bring those little legs back elon

  • Steve Weidig

    Would having continued the development of a Falcon 5 really have been a loss, though? In fact, wasn't dropping the Falcon 1 the moment the Falcon 9 started a loss, considering how many cubesats and other small payloads are getting launched?

    I could see a Falcon 5 with launch capabilities similar to an Atlas V 501 being quite a success for smaller payloads, for whose the Falcon 9 would be too large – and thus too expensive. And I'm sure there's lots of satellites which could have launched with such a rocket.

  • Michael ThaArchAngel

    The truth is in the progress, the space shuttle program was a complete waste of time it should have never been.

  • Gryphon Arms USA

    I can somewhat understand why SpaceX would shift from propulsive landing, but I still think it would be worth it. When you take into consideration that they have to basically completely rebuild the capsule after a water landing, there's already a huge savings there. And it would also prove the concept for other than Earth landing.
    I've dealt with the FAA a little bit and I think they have way too many regulations and restrictions and are probably the biggest & worst roadblock in aviation/aerospace development. That's why there are so many aircraft out there in use as "experimental" because the freaking FAA (Forbidding Advances in Aviation) has it's head buried so far up its butt that it cheeks are it's shoulders.

  • Andrea Cheval

    Awesome. Talking about spacex, I'm a bit dissapointed they didnt build th ITS. I remember when I saw spacex's Interplanetary rocket and then 1year later it basically shrinked. No. It literally shrinked. Then I was a bit happier the next year, when it grew, and got those cool nose airbrakes.

  • Super Sandro

    Wait if some rockets are named after how many engines it has on the first stage
    Howcome the N1 had 1 but it hsd 30 thrusters

  • Addicted to Gaming

    I wonder if they still had the ejector seats if it could have saved the crew of the Columbia and Challenger

  • Anthony Sellitto

    Are you still live-streaming SpaceX launches? If not from you I will be be watching tonight’s launch from Sarasota Fl via livestream to my iPad using verizon cell service for wi fi. I will also be at a location with a good view NE in Sarasota and will be looking for the rocket once it reaches 14,800’ (the height where it will be visible above the horizon from my location) It will take approximately 1min14sec to reach that altitude (based on the time it took the last F9 launch to reach that altitude) Do you know the delay between actual live and when your (or those watching on SpaceX’s) livestream is received by your viewers, the delay being due to processing the video, conversion, transmitting etc. That way I can estimate the moment it will be visible to me live. Thanks

  • dean woodward

    Math fail at @5:20 or so- 1 mile = 1.609 Kilometer, so 100mph ~= 160kph; not 62kph as stated. The second number looks right.

  • Kristian Kornum

    you should do a vid with the whole story and evolution of Space X, with rocket, engine etc. comparisons, fail and successes, like contracts and financials as well.

  • Erik Svensson

    This video was released one week before the plans of ITS (now Starship) was first showed. It's crazy to think that in just 3 years we have gone from first mock-ups of the ITS to now a fully built and assembled MK1 Starship! You go SpaceX!

  • divedevil985

    More evidence the crew dragon was designed by amateurs. You make it sound like pivoting is an advantage when in reality its proof that it wasn't well thought out to begin with. Guess what…since this video posted they probably won't even re-use these capsules because of the saltwater landings. They finally figured out what everyone else with actual experience knew along….saltwater landings are very expensive to refurbish. The Starliner is superior by every measure…because it was designed from the beginning with one use in mind…safe transportation of astronauts per their contract. This thing could never have gone to Mars even as a lander. It was built for space tourism not astronauts.

  • divedevil985

    I love that this video shows how amateurish SpaceX is. For instance watch at 2:40 when the Falcon 9 almost rolled into the tower at liftoff. They did not anticipate the gyroscopic effect of 9 turbopumps. Complete success right? Barely cleared the tower. They contracted a recovery crew to retrieve the first stage but found only pieces…..the cg spun it apart after staging.

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