"Russia is no longer needed": Crew Dragon successfully docked with the ISS. What's next?

He looks like a big white bullet - just movewill be much faster. Its manufacturer, the company SpaceX, calls the ship Crew Dragon. During the launch, he was at a height of several tens of meters from the ground, at the top of the Falcon 9 rocket, looking down at the launch pad 39A at the Yu. Kennedy in Florida. If everything goes well (spoiler: everything went well), Crew Dragon will go to the International Space Station on the last test flight before astronauts sit in it.

No American company has everlaunched the space traveler into orbit on her own ship. “It’s nice to feel again that we are ready to fly,” said William Gerschtenmeyer, NASA's assistant administrator for space exploration and operations by people, having familiarized himself with the mission’s readiness for flight on February 22.

Now Crew Dragon will carry people to the ISS

It would seem that in this such? No more than 109 spacecrafts flew from the 39A site before, and most of them — from the Apollo moon missions and then the space shuttles — were larger, more powerful, and more ambitious. It so happened that these were government projects of a national scale.

“This is a modest step towards commercial spaceflight, but it’s worth emphasizing the word“ modest, ”says John Logsdon, an honorary professor of space policy at George Washington University.

Fair remark. At the moment, Crew Dragon is a government project organized just differently. But SpaceX and its allies say that this is a step towards much more. “This is a huge deal,” says Chad Anderson, CEO of Space Angels, a $ 50 million venture capital fund that focuses on space startups. “SpaceX has opened an era of entrepreneurship in space. And this is not a tribute - it is a great respect for their merits. ”

The immediate goal, according to the NASA administratorJim Brydenstein, is that "American astronauts sent an American spacecraft from American soil for the first time since the resignation of space shuttles in 2011"

Because since then, the US has rented space forastronauts on Russian Soyuz rockets. And if this first Crew Dragon flight would have been successful - and that was how it had become, previously - NASA astronauts Robert Benken and Douglas Hurley will leave with the next Dragon mission in July.

Crew Dragon, 8 meters long and with a capacity of sevenastronauts, was able to take with them only 200 kilograms of cargo in this flight - Demo 1. His plan was to reach and dock with the space station a day after launch, spend five days there, and then flop into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

The crew module, like its rocket, reusable -This is an important part of the SpaceX business model, designed for savings due to reusable use. Multi-million dollar investments will be reused rather than “thrown away” after a single use.

And in the spirit of NASA's American entrepreneurshiporganized for SpaceX competition. Boeing with a similar CST-100 Starliner capsule is currently conducting a test flight without a crew in April. If all goes well, astronauts Eric Bo, Nicole Aunapu Mann and Christopher Ferguson will fly on it in August.

Boeing has long been an aerospace contractor.NASA, and this is reflected in the contracts that are signed with him and SpaceX. To perform the same work Boeing allocated 4.2 billion dollars, and SpaceX - in the region of 2.6 billion. The first launches of Boeing will use the Atlas 5 expendable rocket, which will make them essentially more expensive. But given the constant shifts in graphics, the Boeing team may well tear a laurel wreath by going to the ISS before the SpaceX team.

“The fundamental importance of the commercial crew is to restore US access to space,” says Logsdon. “He saves us from the hope of Russians, that’s what’s important.”

Russia is no longer needed

For entrepreneurs like Ilon Musk, brightand ambiguous CEO SpaceX, a big goal - to make the sky closer. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, finances, at his own expense, the Blue Origin space company. Richard Branson, a bright businessman, moved from music to Virgin Galactic to make space tourism a reality. Other ambitious space companies have come and gone in the past twenty-five years, but very few have seen a vision as large and bold as Ilon Musk. He said that the goal is to make people look like an endearing space, to establish colonies on Mars and "save" life on Earth.

"What is the difference between companies thatparticipated in this development in how they were funded? ”, says Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at the Teal Group. "Twenty years ago, they were not as rich as Bezos, charismatic, like Musk, or willing to take risks, like Branson."

In the early days of the cosmic era, when the flightman in space was part of the Cold War race, NASA was at risk, sending astronauts on dangerous journeys to defeat the Soviet Union in the battle for the moon. This was reflected in the costs; aerospace companies benefited from a huge number of government contracts, which ensured that they would make money even getting out of the budget, since each mission was vital to national security. No one really knew how much a space trip should cost. When taxpayers started complaining, someone always said that the future of freedom was at stake.

But then Neil Armstrong walked across the moon, and withvictory in the space race NASA could not find a new direction. Suddenly, any risk has become difficult to justify. Spacecraft began to be designed so that flights were faster, but at the same time they became less effective. New technologies that could knock off the cost of space exploration, rejected in favor of proven and stable technologies. Therefore, although NASA's space shuttles were designed to knock down cost, flights remained incredibly expensive - and at the same time were dangerous. The explosion of the Challenger shuttle in 1986 put the shuttle program on a two-year pause, and the loss of the Columbia shuttle in 2003 put an end to it.

Anderson says the NASA problem wassystemic. “We have been developing space technologies for 60 years, mostly funded by the government. There were many contractors - and one client. As a result, we got the opposite of innovation. We went from nowhere to low earth orbit, to the moon, then back to low earth orbit, and in the end did not come. Before SpaceX, it was like that. ”

The breakthrough, according to Anderson, quietly happened in 2009year It was not technical progress and not a loud launch - it was a list. SpaceX has published its prices for the launch of valuable cargo. Now, if the company wanted to launch a satellite, she knew how much money to attract, and could make plans around it. Before that, there were several dozen participants willing to invest in new space enterprises. Now the company has invested 18 billion dollars from 412 companies.

Business is still not easy. For six years, SpaceX has struggled to post its first payload in orbit; in 2015 and 2016 suffered impressive missile failures that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. In January it became known that the company dismisses 10% of its staff of 6,000 people. In short, anyone can make a small fortune in space — you just have to spend a lot.

But heaven has opened for entrepreneurs, partlybecause of SpaceX’s aggressive business, and in part because Washington now welcomes private enterprise in orbit. The most important thing about launching SpaceX astronauts is not that they actually fly into space. The important thing is that they reduced prices. They did amazing things that seemed impossible. Made them efficiently and inexpensively.

What began to happen to space when prices are alreadyceased to seem overwhelming? The idea literally flowed from all sides. SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit organization, launched the world's first private lunar spacecraft on the SpaceX rocket. Earth observation satellites, which were often output one per day, have now replaced small clusters of smaller and mobile satellites that send readings in real time. And so on.

Caceres says that the biggest driving forceThe demand for space business in the near future may be Internet traffic: in many cases, transmitting data via satellite is cheaper than over land. In 2015, SpaceX promised to deploy a global Starlink network of 11,943 satellites. No one even took an eye.

Of course, launching satellites is easier and saferthan people. Even Musk said that the chance that he will retire once on Mars is about 70%. To date, governments are the only persons sending people into space. Will this change soon?

Someone would have come long ago if there was a demand, wouldn’t it? Yes, and current companies could fly by themselves, but would they? And where to go?

Far away, says Musk and his colleagues. If they succeed, the next stop will be Mars, and very soon. They are infinitely confident in themselves and in space.

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