|Garrett Reisman, SpaceX senior engineer
By Sienna Kossman
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a private company that creates and launches advanced spacecraft, is currently working on a project that it hopes will make space travel more like GA flying: simple, safe, and cost-effective.
"If every time we flew a 747 to Tokyo from Los Angeles we threw it away when we got there, built a new one, and then came home, flying would become rather expensive," said Garrett Reisman, former astronaut who presented a forum about the company's efforts on Thursday at AirVenture. Reisman is a senior engineer at SpaceX.
"Reusability is hard, but we have been doing a lot of things to make rockets more airplane-like."
In its 550,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art headquarters in Hawthorne, California, SpaceX is working on CCDev2-DragonRider, a project that symbolizes why SpaceX was founded in the first place.
"It is about carrying people to space solely to further the cause of spaceflight," Reisman said.
In 2005, Dragon, a free-flying spacecraft developed by SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, was created to transport pressurized and unpressurized cargo to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
This past May, SpaceX's Dragon made history when it recorded a whole slew of firsts, topped by becoming the first commercial vehicle to successfully attach to the ISS.
"It gives us great pride to be the first company to produce and successfully send a vehicle to the ISS," Reisman said.
Now, the CCDev2-DragonRider project is focused on transforming the commercial cargo spacecraft Dragon into a general transportation vehicle for people.
DragonRider can carry seven people, the pilot, the commander, and five passengers.
Working under a $75 million contract with NASA this past year, SpaceX was able to complete all of the initial phase work on DragonRider, including design, development and testing, crew systems and training, and examination of safety measures.
A lot of development work was also put into DragonRider's engine, SuperDraco, which weighs in at about 16,700 pounds, to make sure it is as safe and cost-effective as possible. SuperDraco is an eight-cyclone capsule that will act as a "pusher system" during flight.
SpaceX is currently waiting for admission into NASA's post-CCDev2 phase, which will include completing the design, further hardware and crew safety testing, and preparation for certification.
Because SpaceX is a commercial organization and contractor, it can make the decisions about project designs, testing, and planning while NASA oversees them. If it was not a commercial organization, NASA would have complete control of all program aspects.
"In my opinion, it's a pretty good balance of NASA control and the private sector's abilities," Reisman said. "This method also allows private investment to help get stuff done."
According to SpaceX, the majority of the cost of space travel is in how you build the rocket. For example, the current cost of operating the Falcon Heavy, which helped launch Dragon, is $10,000 per pound. Falcon Heavy weighs 52,000 kg to low-earth orbit.
"An operating cost of $1,000 per pound would be great, but $10 per pound would be even better," Reisman said. "We're trying to get there."
When NASA wound down the space shuttle program last year and turned to foreign governments for expensive space travel opportunities, SpaceX knew it was time to make space travel affordable again.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but we are going to put an end to it by mid-2015 with SpaceX and Dragon," Reisman predicted. "Life is happening right now in space. It's a really exciting and innovative time."
For more information on SpaceX and the DragonRider project, visit www.SpaceX.com.