On the afternoon of May 22, according to foreign media, on the afternoon of May 27,Two experienced NASA astronauts are about to make history by boarding a newly developed spacecraft in Florida on the east coast of the United States and flying to the international space station.
The two astronauts will be the first to fly to space in a real private spacecraft, crew dragon, developed and operated by SpaceX. The launch may mark a new era for the American space industry.
The mission is the culmination of nearly 10 years of R & D and cooperation between SpaceX and NASA. If the launch is successful, it will mean that for the first time since the space shuttle program in 2011, Americans have completed an orbital launch in the United States. For the past nine years, all American astronauts have traveled to the international space station on Russian rockets in Kazakhstan.
In addition to being of great significance to the United States, this manned space flight is the last big test for crew dragon of SpaceX, which is also part of NASA's commercial crew program. NASA's program has many goals, but its most important goal is to let private companies build the next generation of spacecraft and put American astronauts in orbit, rather than NASA building its own. They hope that these commercial spacecraft can be manufactured at a lower cost, thereby saving taxpayers' taxes. After the completion of spacecraft manufacturing, these private enterprises can also make profits by selling seats on the spacecraft.
Essentially, the NASA is to introduce the capitalist system into the field of manned spaceflight. "This is an introductory lesson in capitalism ," says Lori Javier (Lori Garver), a former NASA manager at Obama. The government is not good at such things. We've been firing rockets for the last 50 years, and all the work is done by the industry. Why can't they take over, and we' ll buy the service?
Figures don't lie. By making spacecraft in this way, NASA do save a lot of money, but the new manned space economy is still in its infancy. "It may be the starting point for something greater ," said Geoff Grissom (Jeff Greason,), an aerospace consultant and member of the Augustine Commission (Augustine Commission) responsible for reviewing the NASA space program ." Or more steps are needed to achieve commercial. Whatever you think, it's progress. The only thing that isn't certain is the extent of this progress, and we have to look back at it before we can conclude ."
So far, the commercial crew program has been mixed in terms of achieving its goals, but more analysts believe that it has brought a new way for NASA and enterprises to explore space. In the next decade, this new way may fundamentally change the appearance of the Taikong economy.
New ways of doing business
Since human beings can enter space, the control of this industry has been firmly in the hands of the government. In the past half century, although NASA has hired contractors to build rockets, it still maintains complete control over production and design. Once the vehicle is built, NASA immediately acquires ownership and operational rights.
As a result, the cost of rockets has been high. Since the 1960s, NASA's budget has been expanding to develop a Saturn V rocket to carry astronauts to the moon. The agency hopes its next-generation vehicle, space shuttle, will reduce costs, but according to an analyst, space shuttle still costs NASA about $1.6 billion per flight.
"In the first 50 years, the thing that got in the way of space development was space transportation," Javier said. We can't reduce costs. " Javier and others believe that NASA's overly strong security culture has led them to form their own unique way of doing things that often complicate NASA's vehicles more than they really need. Moreover, the lack of competition is also an important reason for the high cost of vehicles.
In 2004, the Bush administration called for the cancellation of the space shuttle project, and just then, an opportunity for experimentation came. NASA still needs to find a way to get supplies to the international space station after the shuttles have stopped. NASA wants to find a low-cost solution that will allow them to save money on other more ambitious projects, such as exploring more distant places in space. So NASA officials set up a new space business model, which they call cots.
Through the cots program, NASA will become an investor, not a supervisor. NASA tells companies what kind of rockets or spacecraft they want and invests in these projects. The enterprise will be responsible for the design and production of these space vehicles.
To help NASA save costs, some of the money needed for the project needs to be borne by these companies, which in turn can stimulate companies to find ways to reduce costs. In addition, NASA hopes to promote competition by involving multiple companies in the program. "With the introduction of competition, development costs are bound to decrease, which allows NASA to do something else," Javier said After design and manufacturing, NASA will act as a customer, buying these services from businesses, just as consumers buy airline tickets.
"We don't want to be the only customers for these companies ," said Alan Linden Meyer (Alan Lindenmoyer), an aerospace consultant and former NASA manager. We hope that this project will benefit all and the United States as a whole. We very much hope to help in reducing the cost of going to space. Because cutting costs is the key to opening up all new markets ."
And the plan did work in reality. Cots chose SpaceX as one of its initial suppliers, and with NASA's help, the company developed the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon warehouse. SpaceX also used its Falcon 9 rocket to launch several commercial satellites.
After a successful supplier, NASA decided to go further. During mr obama's presidency, NASA officials began to wonder whether the business model could be used in other ways, such as shipping astronauts and cargo into space. For both NASA and legislators, this is a radical idea. "Safety is the biggest concern ," said CEO Garissa Christensen (Carissa Christensen), founder and founder of Space Analysis and Engineering. In the airline industry, people have been worried about whether there will be private companies in the future ."
In 2014, NASA selected two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, NASA's long-term contractor, to manufacture vehicles for NASA's commercial crew project.
Vision and reality
Today, commercial crew project is only one step away from the real realization. But along the way, the implementation of the plan encountered many obstacles. When NASA initially signed contracts with SpaceX and Boeing, the agency wanted their vehicles to be able to launch human space for the first time in 2017. Now it's three years from the original target. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket exploded twice: during flight and during ground tests. The company's crew dragon also exploded during ground tests. Boeing's test is not smooth either. In the initial test of CST-100 starliner in December 2019, there are a lot of software errors.
In the end, SpaceX stands out from the competition. Before SpaceX's first flight, NASA is reviewing the commercial crew project to determine whether it has achieved the expected results.
Digitally, crew dragon's development costs are much lower than other NASA projects. Analysts at Planetary Society estimate NASA's total investment in the crew dragon project over the past decade to be about $6.6 billion.
NASA would have spent much more than that if NASA had chosen to develop themselves, saving about tens of billions of dollars by working with SpaceX and boeing of billions of dollars, says kathy drell (Casey Dreier), senior space policy adviser ." At first I just thought it was a good deal for NASA, but I didn't realize that the project would help them save so much money ."
Certainly, these vehicles are difficult to compare with what NASA do. Crew Dragon and Starliner are relatively simple aircraft, not comparable to the complex deep space vehicles developed by NASA in the past. "Vehicles do different things in different ways ," said Wayne Wayne Hale, a former project manager and current NASA consultant for the shuttle program. It is difficult to compare the two vehicles with different tasks and abilities. Both boeing and SpaceX provide rental services that use basic protection, no airlock, no robotic arm. All of them are actually cargo vehicles, unlike the alliance (Soyuz)."
In the process of manufacturing such a streamlined and serviceable spacecraft, commercial crew also achieved its goal of "manufacturing competition". Freight and manned projects helped SpaceX become a major player in the industry, which had previously been dominated by the same contractor's business. Javier said that by involving another large company (Boeing) in the process, it would help to continue to drive down costs. If there is only SpaceX, I don't mean they will, but from an economic point of view, they don't need to keep their prices low because there is no competition. "
Does commercial crew project really only produce commercial vehicles? This is still a difficult question to answer. The value of this approach is that it frees NASA from participating in design meetings and from dominating the entire design and production process. But some experts believe that because the purpose of this project is to put humans into space, NASA will always need to maintain a certain degree of participation. In the face of astronauts' life safety, the most important thing is not what kind of contract NASA will take, but to ensure the safety of astronauts.
"This is not an insignificant project ," said Christina Chaplain (Christina Chaplain), a former head of the Office of Government Accountability, who audits Commercial Crew projects. They've taken a lot of steps to make sure they get more insight into the project." NASA, for example, set very strict safety standards for Commercial Crew suppliers, stipulating that the probability of serious injury to aircraft in these enterprises or the death of crew members should not exceed one in 270(this is a high standard, usually at the end of the shuttle project, the probability of serious damage to the aircraft is one in 90). NASA also requires suppliers to comply with a very detailed list of safety and technical requirements, many of which will evolve as planned.
NASA's security advisers say neither SpaceX nor boeing has reached this standard independently and that NASA must help both companies through "substantive intervention" throughout the process. "NASA still have deep expertise and they should continue to use that knowledge to help develop and implement America's most complex and challenging space systems ," Patricia Sanders said at a meeting in May.
In some people's eyes, it's not just business behavior, but the government's guidance on enterprises, always pointing out changes. "We haven't completely turned manned space into a commercial activity," Grissom said. This is a business world where all services have prices. You buy tickets, and if you don't like the tickets currently available, you can't fly into space, which I don't think we have yet. "
The future of commercial manned space services
NASA says this approach is not suitable for all projects. Some analysts believe that NASA dare to develop manned space in this way because even if the program fails, NASA has a backup plan: Russia's Soyuz rocket. "Without such an alternative, the risk would be greater," Chaplin said. If this model does not succeed, the government must have a back-up plan. "
But it's clear that commercial crew has been a success, and NASA hopes that this model can be applied to its more important projects, such as putting humans on the moon. At the end of April this year, NASA has signed preliminary contracts with three major enterprises, including SpaceX, to develop the human lunar lander.
Experts say it will help NASA save more money just like commercial crew, but it's not clear what new markets humans will open for commercial companies when they land on the moon. "There is currently no clear commercial market for lunar activities," Christensen said. Not today, and it's not clear whether there will be in the future. But in addition to the United States, there will be other countries that want to explore the moon, but they are not able to complete such projects on their own. "
As NASA begins to look forward to its next project, it remains to be seen whether commercial crew can find new customers in addition to NASA. The success of this model through the cots project was due to the market demand for rockets at that time: satellite launch mission. "The new project is the opposite of the commercial cargo project, which is the first market demand to launch satellites into low altitude orbit," Dreyer said. Now it's the opposite: first to achieve a capability, and then to find market demand. "
Currently, there are not many enterprises providing low altitude rail transportation services, and SpaceX and Boeing are the only options. "It's like a chicken - to - egg problem," Hale said. One of the reasons that few enterprises participate in the low altitude orbit transportation is that the cost is too high. By helping enterprises establish a cheaper transportation system, the cost will be reduced, and then enterprises will participate. Of course, that's just the theory. "
SpaceX has announced that a consumer has expressed interest in Crew Dragon ships. The company has sold four seats and individual consumers will travel around the world by spaceship in 2021. The company jihui also plans to eventually send consumers to a private space station developed by a commercial company called Axiom. There is much evidence that SpaceX will one day send Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise) to the International Space Station to make new films.
From now on, everything is moving in the right direction, but several times of progress does not mean the success of the whole task. Like any emerging market, we will eventually need to use time to test whether this model works and whether this new type of "travel" can last.
"It's an encouraging thing that this kind of service has attracted some business customers," Grayson said. Of course, if this kind of travel can develop to not only three times, but three times a year or three times a half year, we will be very excited, so we get everything we want. I'm not sure it will happen, but I certainly hope so. "