SpaceX has made a name for itself in the spaceflight industry by rapidly developing its own rocket technology and providing reliable ways for its clients to send stuff into space. Soon, that “stuff” will be human beings, and the client will be NASA, but just having reliable hardware has never been enough for SpaceX to truly succeed.
Reusability is the name of the game for Elon Musk and his crew, and the same is true for the new Crew Dragon, which looks to be beating Boeing’s crew-capable Starliner to the finish line. Now, in a brief chat on Twitter, Musk offers some insights into how the SpaceX team feels about Crew Dragon’s potential for rapid redeployment after it successfully visited the International Space Station a few weeks back.
Replying to a question asking how confident he was in Crew Dragon being easily refurbished for followup missions after the ISS test flight, Musk noted that everything seems to be shaping up nicely.
Yes. Sensitive propulsion & avionics remained dry. Great work by SpaceX Dragon engineering team. Major improvement over Dragon 1.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 29, 2019
As Teslarati points out, one of the biggest challenges for SpaceX — and really any engineering team working on space hardware — is ensuring that seals maintain their integrity while in space as well as on the trip back to Earth.
Many soft plastics that perform well as seals here on Earth become brittle and virtually useless after they’ve spent some time in space. In the case of a crew capsule like Crew Dragon, those seals have to remain strong prior to and during launch, as well as in the vacuum of space and then also during reentry. When the capsule splashes down in the ocean, those seals have to still be in good shape or seawater could flood vital components that would make refurbishment a massive chore.
As Musk seems to indicate, Crew Dragon’s seals maintained their integrity and were able to keep the crucial systems dry, dramatically shortening the time between reentry and a theoretical second launch.
SpaceX is definitely in the lead when it comes to delivering a crew-capable spacecraft to NASA, and we’re expecting to see crewed missions getting underway sooner rather than later. Crew Dragon could be headed back into space, and this time with people aboard, as early as summer.