At 3:23 a.m. Beijing time on May 31, the SpaceX DM-2 Dragon spacecraft was officially launched at the 39A launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in the United States. About 19 hours later, the successful docking of the manned Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station ushered in a new era of commercial manned spaceflight around the world.
Two astronauts enter the International Space Station and meet three astronauts who are already on the International Space Station.
And behind this is a nearly decade-long space competition.
It’s not a long-term solution after all.
The story starts with the International Space Station.
The International Space Station, now the world’s largest in orbit, was completed in 2010 and is fully operational, mainly operated by NASA, Roscosmos, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
In order to facilitate astronauts to and from the ground and space, after years of research, the world’s first reusable space vehicle to and from the ground and space ” U.S. Space Shuttle” has been able to have a name.
On April 12, 1981, the first space shuttle, Columbia, carried out its first STS-1 mission, opening the space shuttle era. Although Challenger and Columbia were wrecked in 1986 and 2003 respectively, there is no denying that the U.S. space shuttle still has important significance in the history of space exploration.
On the morning of July 8, 2011, Atlantis successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center, the 135th liftoff of the 30-year-old U.S. space shuttle era and the last flight of the U.S. space shuttle.
Since then, the U.S. has spent a lot of money on shipping astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station (the current ticket price is about $86 million) for the Russian Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft. Designed by the former Soviet Union, the Soyuz made its maiden flight on April 23, 1967, and was once the only means of transport for astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
It is worth mentioning that in the event of an emergency on the International Space Station, the escape capsule is also fully prepared for the Russian cosmonauts, the United States astronauts on the International Space Station is at an absolute disadvantage.
For the U.S., it’s not a long-term solution, but after all, it’s too expensive to develop a space industry, so NASA has a new way of opening up commercial competition — allowing commercial companies to share the burden, state technology and financial support, encouraging them to develop space vehicles to and from the space station and the ground, and a program called the Commercial Crew Program( commercial manned space flight program).
Four players, three rounds of competition.
According to Wikipedia, “Commercial Crew Program” began in 2011, and in a series of public competitions over the next two years, Boeing, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada and Musk’s SpaceX were successfully bidding.
As a result, competition began.
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In the first round of competition, NASA allocated $1.3 billion to fund the development of manned space technology for commercial companies.
The second round of competition aims to identify specific programmes for space vehicles, including:
Blue Origin received $22 million to develop its dual-cone-headed capsule concept;
SpaceX received $75 million to develop Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 manned launch vehicles;
Sierra Nevada received $80 million to develop Dream Chaser space shuttle
Boeing received $92.3 million for the development of the CST-100 spacecraft.
The second round of competition ended in May 2014, and NASA identified a winning formula among its competitors, and the company that successfully advanced to the third round of the competition, the Commercial Human Space Flight Integrated Capability, will also receive a new round of funding.
It is worth noting that at this node, Blue Origin, founded by Bezos, decided not to compete, but its manned space program will continue, although all funding will depend entirely on Bezos personally.
In the third round of competition, the Sierra Nevada received $212.5 million, SpaceX received $440 million and Boeing received $460 million.
After several rounds of competition, on September 16, 2014, Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft and SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft were finally selected by NASA.
In response, the Sierra Nevada protested to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), but was rejected by a federal court. The Sierra Nevada then accepted the results, redesigning its Dream Chaser spacecraft into a commercial space chartered vehicle after laying off 90 employees, carrying out seamless resupply missions on the ground and on the International Space Station.
That is, there are only two space X and Boeing competitors left on the track.
Sprint to the era of commercial manned spaceflight
And the two players in the process of sprinting towards the era of commercial manned spaceflight, the process is not all smooth sailing.
In fact, nasa’s original plan was to complete the first manned space missionby by the end of 2017, but there were many problems with the design, testing and operation of the spacecraft and launch vehicle, and the launch was delayed – in May 2016, Boeing said its first flight was postponed to 2018 due to problems with the first Atlas V N22 launch vehicle of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft; It was also announced that its first flight would be postponed until 2018.
At the same time, NASA is under pressure from Russia, where the opportunities for U.S. astronauts to participate in the Soyuz program are diminishing and the government is naturally starting to worry.
In February 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended that NASA develop further plans for commercial manned missions.
Based on this, in August 2018, NASA identified astronauts aboard the CST-100 Starliner and Dragon spacecraft, and in October, NASA announced that the spacecraft would launch a launch demonstration in 2019.
Happily, the unmanned SpaceX Demo-1 mission was launched on March 2, 2019, the Falcon 9 rocket was successfully recovered, and the spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station and returned to Earth six days later. However, the Dragon capsule exploded during a static ignition test in April 2019 and was accidentally destroyed, again affecting the spacecraft’s manned first flight.
On the other side, Boeing’s orbital and spacecraft flight tests were delayed by the failure of the CST-100 Starliner ship abort system, and with some undisclosed factors, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft’s test date has been delayed.
It is clear that, despite both failures, SpaceX is more efficient and the key to surpassing Boeing.
It’s also worth noting that after three rounds of competition, Boeing received $4.2 billion, while SpaceX received just $2.6 billion. SpaceX, founded in June 2002, is unrealistic to compete for seniority and funding in front of a century-old global aerospace industry leader.
In the face of this awkward situation, SpaceX’s plan is simple and brutal – to save money. SpaceX has a unique rocket recovery technology, through the use of space ultra-strength aluminum lithium alloy material, increased heat shield and other measures, its rocket has been recovered many times, saving a lot of costs, which is actually one of the reasons spaceX won this time.
As we all know later, SpaceX pioneered a new era of global commercial manned spaceflight.
In fact, SpaceX has been questioned, Musk choked at the launch of SpaceX’s successful manned rocket launch:
The voice of doubt makes us want to succeed more, and I thought spaceX was only 10% likely to succeed when it was founded. Both SpaceX and Tesla have faced bankruptcy, and 2008 was a very difficult year, with four attempts to get the Falcon 1 rocket into orbit.
It’s important to make it clear that while SpaceX took the first step to complete its first flight, that doesn’t mean SpaceX has a monopoly.
It remains to be seen which company will stand out in the next match.