The successful launch of Crew Dragon will hit the Russian cosmonautics: it will lose hundreds of millions of dollars from the delivery of American astronauts. The United States may abandon the ISS, and then Roscosmos will have a difficult time. But there are more than just those affected: SpaceX's new ship could be a crucial element in … reaching the moon. And this despite the fact that the Crew Dragon seems to be unsuitable for flying to it. Let's try to figure out why.
Why Crew Dragon Flight Means the Decline of Soyuz
On May 30, 2020, for the first time in nine years, a spaceship carrying people took off from the United States. At a press conference on this occasion, Elon Musk, openly teasing the famous phrase of Dmitry Rogozin, simply said: “The trampoline is working. A joke for those in the know."
And it was not just another space trampoline: Crew Dragon is much larger and more spacious than the Soyuz, which has been flying for more than half a century. For example, the volume of the Soyuz descent unit available to the crew is 2.5 cubic meters, so more than three people in spacesuits cannot be driven there.
But the Crew Dragon pressurized volume descends to the Earth entirely, and the pressurized volume available to the crew is 9.3 cubic meters (3, 72 times more than that of the Soyuz). NASA has decided that its crew will be no more than four people, because keeping many astronauts on the ISS is expensive for the agency.
However, the actual capacity of the Crew Dragon, when additional seats are installed, can easily be raised up to 6-7 people - many times more than that of the Soyuz. The new spacecraft from SpaceX is equal in hermetic volume to the Eagle, which is being developed by Roskosmos.
However, "Eagle" with people to the ISS is going to be launched only in 2025. This is a very distant date, and this means that for at least five years, American spaceships will noticeably surpass Russian ones in their parameters. Actually, everyone else in the world: the Chinese "Shenzhou" is just a copy of the "Union".
What does this mean for Russia?
For our country, the dismantling of the American shuttles nine years ago was objectively beneficial: Soyuz became a monopoly on the delivery of people to the ISS. Take 2019: out of eight people brought to the station, five were citizens of other countries, and only three were Russian cosmonauts. NASA paid up to $ 80 million for places for foreigners. 0, 4 billion dollars a year for Roskosmos - whose budget does not even reach 4 billion dollars - this is a lot of money.
At the same time, the costs of our country for these five flights were equal to only two additional flights of the Soyuz. Their prime cost is not known for certain (Roskosmos, of course, does not announce it), but it clearly does not exceed $ 200 million per launch. In addition, there are high fixed costs in the space industry: workers in factories have to be paid wages all year round. Now the frequency of Soyuz flights into orbit will halve, but the cost of maintaining equipment and personnel for their manufacture will not decrease significantly.
That is, the start of Crew Dragon flights will force our state to spend much more on space - hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
At the same time, one should not harbor illusions: no one has ever doubted that sooner or later the United States will again start putting people into space. The past nine years without shuttles have already brought Roscosmos billions of dollars - an amount comparable to its annual budget.
Another problem may become more acute for the Russian space agency. It's pretty obvious that the ISS has a limited life cycle. And it is limited not technically, by objective reasons, but subjectively - by the desire to maintain it in working order. The states may not pull at the same time a flight to the Moon - where they plan to land by 2024 - and flights to the ISS.
It is quite obvious that Russia will not be able to land a man on the moon in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it remains either to curtail the manned program, which is impossible due to the negative reaction of public opinion, or to fly to the ISS. That is, in fact, there is no choice: if NASA leaves the game, Roskosmos will be obliged to fly to the orbital station.
And this is where the likelihood of a commercial competitor emerges. The ISS has been around for many years, and its operation and repair requires trained personnel. If the American government loses interest in it, commercial players - like SpaceX or others - can organize space tourism or even build a private orbital station to carry tourists there. And here it will be difficult for Roskosmos to compete with them. Tourists usually choose the more comfortable and cheaper option.
Due to NASA restrictions, the launch price for Crew Dragon may now exceed $ 0.4 billion, which is more than Soyuz's. But, firstly, the people on the SpaceX ship can be raised twice as many. Secondly, after getting out of NASA restrictions, the Crew Dragon reusable spacecraft is able to start flying much cheaper than today. In general, only Eagle will be able to fight for space tourists, but when it appears in orbit is not yet clear.
What Launching a Manned Dragon Means for America
A paradoxical situation is developing in the USA. On the one hand, there is the strongest player in the space industry on our planet. On the other hand, there are many respected people on the boards of Boeing and Lockheed Martin (as well as their joint daughter, ULA), to whom this Musk is not a relative or a business partner. But they have excellent, decades-long lobbying ties with NASA and the local military. They absolutely do not want to let the newcomer on their piece of the state budget pie. If SpaceX is given a contract somewhere, they will pay less than the "right" companies for the same work.
For example, Starliner is being developed by Boeing for NASA for $ 4.2 billion, and Crew Dragon was created by SpaceX as part of a $ 2.6 billion contract. As it is politically correct to write in the West, although the price of SpaceX is lower, the head of NASA found Boeing's proposal more attractive. In an internal document of the Agency, its head wrote:
"I think Boeing's proposal is better than SpaceX's, both technically and in terms of [Boeing's] management approach, so it should pay more."
The current launch of Crew Dragon has put everything in its place. Boeing's "more attractive" offer has yet to reach flight readiness, and it is more expensive and no better in terms of capacity.
Regarding how NASA shares the budget, and why they think that more should be paid to the "old" companies, although they do worse, the American specialized press consistently writes mocking texts. In the comments below them, US citizens say bluntly: the situation with corruption and lobbying in the space industry is unacceptably bad.
But the position of citizens or the media does not particularly affect anything. At the end of the fiscal year, the lion's share of funding is received by those who have better connections, and not SpaceX. Even though the Crew Dragon is noticeably cheaper than Boeing's Starliner, not to mention Lockheed Martin's Orion spacecraft. Since 2006 (14 years), they have already spent $ 21.5 billion on the development of the latter, but so far he has not made a single flight.
For comparison, we will mention: SpaceX has not received such money in its entire existence, but managed to create both the Crew Dragon, and the Falcon 9 rocket, and the Falcon Heavy rocket (the largest in existence) and much more. It is planned to spend another 1.4 billion on Orion in 2021, but there is no certainty that it will fly at least this year.
How an orbit ship could win a new moon race
This would not be a problem if it were not for the fact that Donald Trump really wants America to return to the moon under his rule. This means that it should be no later than 2024, which is very close. But for a flight to the moon, it is the Orion ship that is needed - Boeing's Starliner is not large enough for this.Crew Dragon, according to SpaceX, would do the job, but NASA, as we noted above, more believes the opinions of other players in the American space industry. Therefore, the Agency believes that only the Orion will cope - and the timing of its readiness is still not clear.
In theory, development began many years before Crew Dragon and should be completed by now. But in practice, there were already so many delays with it that it is difficult to confidently say that the ship will be ready by 2024. Today, the main issues that are not fully completed are the issues of integration with the future missile and the tests themselves with its participation. Yes, the traditional players in the US space market have become adept at lobbying, but the speed of their work today is noticeably slower than half a century ago. And less than SpaceX.
Another complication: Orion, in theory, should be launched to the moon on an SLS rocket. This is the same kosmodolgostroy as Orion itself. They have been doing it for a long time, at least 20.3 billion dollars have been spent, and when it will fly, it is again completely unclear. Again, the American press is mercilessly criticizing the project, noting that the SLS engines alone cost $ 146 million apiece (and there are four of them for each missile). ArsTechnica sensibly notes that the Russian RD-180 engine is twice as powerful as each such SLS engine, but at the same time it costs six times less.
But let's leave the press alone. Another thing is more important: if we multiply the probability that SLS is not ready and the probability that Orion is not ready to fly to the Moon by 2024, we get a strange picture. It is possible that by 2024 astronauts for a lunar mission from Earth will be lifted … Crew Dragon.
The fact is that, as we already wrote, NASA allocated SpaceX $ 135 million to fine-tune Starship. This money is extremely small - ten times less than they spend a year on Orion or SLS. But SpaceX implements its projects much cheaper than the old players in the American space industry. Therefore, there is a significant likelihood that Starship will be ready for space travel by 2024.
NASA has allocated assistance for its development as a lunar lander - despite the fact that Starship is in fact a huge spacecraft, the size of the entire ISS, capable of taking astronauts to the Moon with much more comfort than Orion. The reason why the Agency does not want to use the promising spaceship SpaceX, but wants to limit itself to Orion, is that Starship does not have the rescue emergency system that Orion has.
This is understandable: Starship is too big. The payload there is a hundred tons, the capacity, in theory, is many hundreds of people. An escape pod of this size is also unlikely to be a life pod on the largest airliner in existence. Therefore, the possibility of a capsule for Starship was not laid even at the design stage. If the capsule is put there, the payload of the spacecraft will fall so that it will be unrealistic to use it for flights to Mars. And Musk's goal is precisely Mars, and not flights into near space, including the Moon.
But the Crew Dragon has no problems with the rescue emergency system. It is quite traditional and well tested on it. That is, if NASA cannot launch Orion to the Moon on top of an SLS rocket in 2024, then the Agency will still be able to deliver people to Earth's satellite in an alternative way.
To do this, it will be necessary to raise people into low-earth orbit using the Crew Dragon (launched by the Falcon 9 rocket). In low-earth orbit, transfer them to Starship. He will deliver them to a circumlunar orbit, then land on the satellite itself - since Starship should land on other celestial bodies entirely, and not send a small lander there. And that's all: the return of the Americans to the moon took place.
Separately, we note that it is very difficult to integrate another player in the space market into this system. The intra-ship suits of each ship are designed specifically for this ship. Because the air in such a spacesuit is supplied through a hose from the life support system of the ship, and each ship has its own "entrance". Therefore, those of our cosmonauts who flew on the shuttles wore American spacesuits (which is why their nails later slipped off). And American astronauts, flying to the ISS, have used the Russian Sokol for the past nine years.
This means that NASA will not be able, if Orion / SLS is not ready, to lift astronauts into orbit using Boeing's Starliner: its spacesuits on Starship will simply have nothing to include. With the Crew Dragon, this problem will not arise: the life support system on both ships of the company will be the same.
There will be no problems with the incompatibility of extravehicular space suits for the lunar surface. They will be unified with the Starship equipment anyway, because the Agency is already planning to use it as a lunar lander.
All this creates a rather interesting picture. Perhaps, not only Roscosmos, but also the traditional players of the American space industry will suffer greatly from the success of Crew Dragon. Their sluggishness, coupled with Trump's desire to return to the moon at any cost during his reign, could give SpaceX a leading role in all stages of the new lunar race.