In this post we will be taking a closer look at some of the space capsules that have been developed by just two of the four leading aerospace companies discussed in my second post, SpaceX and Boeing. We will look at their design features, uses, technical challenges, and any future upgrades. In the future I may look at the rockets that will propel them, such as the Falcon 9 and the Atlas V, but in the interest of keeping this to a reasonable length I will have to focus on the capsules for now.
The Red Dragon
This unmanned space capsule, not to be confused with the Dragon or Dragon V2 manned spacecrafts which it is modified from, will break the sound barrier before softlanding on Mars, according to Space.com. It will do this using supersonic retropropulsion and its Superdraco Thrusters. Although the Mars mission that NASA has planned for it will be unmanned, this is still a big step towards exploring and colonizing the Red planet with NASA reportedly considering this to be “key to enabling human Mars missions” something which NASA wants to accomplish by the 2030’s, while SpaceX is setting its sights on landing pioneers there even earlier, as soon as 2024, according to the website.
Because it is not being designed to carry passengers, although, as mentioned before, the technology used on it will help future manned missions, it will not have a life support system, according to a NASA report. It’s intended destination is Mars, so it will not need to dock at the ISS, either. It has heat-shields which are “designed for hyperbolic entries at Earth and would be capable of withstanding the lower-speed hyperbolic”
Several things had to be taken into account while designing it. To be feasible, the report says, it would need to be able to “successfully enter, descend, and land with little or no modification”, which it notes will be a challenge given that the original design was intended for entry into Earth’s atmosphere, which it says is thicker than Mars’. The biggest problem here, then, was designing a proper parachute to deaccelerate it with, and it looks as if they have opted to go without them as was suggested in the report, relying instead only on the before mentioned SuperDraco Thrusters.
The Starliner CST-100 space-capsule.
This space-capsule, which is compatible with the Atlas V Rocket was said to be by engineering.com “a relatively spacious upgrade” when compared to space capsules used in the past, with the site noting that it was “designed after the Apollo Command Module“. According to the Boing website, this seven person spacecraft, which it calls a “21st century space capsule”, is being developed by Boeing as part of their Commercial Crew Program agreement with NASA. It can either be filled to capacity with passengers on their way to the International Space Station, or it can be partially filled with cargo if needed. The website goes on to say that it will be used to “carry up to four NASA-sponsored crew members and time-critical scientific research”. It will also dock on the ISS automatically.
According to the Boeing website, “The Starliner has an innovative, weldless structure, which engineering.com says means that”the entire shell of the vehicle was spun-formed, reducing the overall weight of the craft” thus leading to a reduction in payload cost. They say that the craft will fly better than its predecessors. This is especially good to hear because it did previously have trouble with aerodynamic stability, which apparently have now been mitigated. Boeing says it is “reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time”. The engines are of a type which have previously only been used on space-probes, the RL10, and so far they are performing well in tests, NASA says. Astronaut Eric Boe commented that “This is what makes America great, and that’s why it’s so good to get out here and see things like this”.
Features: Boeing reports that it will include some pretty cool features. These are “wireless internet and tablet technology for crew interfaces.” The tablet tech, especially, reminds me somewhat of Star Trek,
especially since the craft is called a Starliner.
In regard to design, engineering.com reports that this interface is streamlined, and so easier for the astronauts to use, which will lead to less training being required to fly it.
You can watch them trying it out here:
Another space-capsule resembling the Apollo, according to the NASA website, the Orion is a space capsule which was designed to take astronauts deep into space, as far as an asteroid or Mars, and safely return them home. The Daily Mail called it a spacecraft “designed to meet the evolving needs of our nation’s deep space exploration program for decades to come”. It will be launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The site describes the Orion Capsule as having three main parts, a launch abort system at the top (which will quickly propel astronauts out in an emergency), a crew module in the middle, and a service module at the bottom. It will be able to remain in orbit for longer periods of time because it boasts solar panels on top of the service module. During testing, its shielding has successfully protected it from high levels of radiation, as well as temperatures which were twice as hot as molten lava. Its parachutes were also reportedly a success . After the SLS is finished and tested for compatibility, NASA plans to have Orion first orbit the moon before moving on to other missions. I although it is cramped, there are (thankfully, for the astronauts) plans for it to be docked with a larger, yet to be designed, module before embarking on its long journey to Mars, according to Popular Science.
This post is getting pretty long, so that’s all for now. Sometime before next Friday, however, I will be doing a bonus post on one final capsule that we can’t afford to miss, the Dragon V2. Be sure to check in then, as well as next Friday, as we really start to take off with this subject. Thank you for reading.