NASA awarded SpaceX a contract for the Dragon XL capsule, an “upgraded version of the capsule” that carries personnel and cargo to and from the International Space Station, as well as supplies to the Gateway Station. SpaceX has received part of a $7 billion NASA contract to deploy its largest rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to launch a new “Dragon XL” spacecraft to the Lunar Gateway.
An outpost NASA hopes to build on the Moon within the next decade. Fate is now in the hands of SpaceX as NASA has ordered them to decide the destiny of the “Dragon XL” Lunar Cargo Mission capsule. Now you are curious to know more about this, aren’t you? So let’s dive into it.. But first, we would like to welcome you to our channel Lift Off, where we post daily updates from the world of space.
NASA revealed new concept art for SpaceX’s Dragon XL cargo ship, which will be used to support NASA’s Lunar Gateway. Lunar Gateway would be a small settlement orbiting the Moon in a very elliptical orbit. It is an important part of NASA’s Artemis Moon mission, which aims to return humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972. Because it is planned to be disposable and does not require a heat shield.
The Dragon XL is aesthetically different from the company’s Dragon. 1 and Dragon 2 spacecraft. The Dragon spacecraft can carry seven people to Earth orbit and beyond. It is currently the only spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of cargo to Earth, as well as the first private spacecraft to carry humans to the International Space Station. SpaceX will launch “the fundamental elements of the Gateway” on one of its Falcon Heavy rockets “no earlier than May 2024,” which includes a cylindrical module that will serve as astronaut living quarters and a larger, box-shaped unit.
Which will provide power and communication services for the space station. NASA appears to have indirectly asked SpaceX to assess the fate of its ‘Dragon XL’ lunar cargo spaceship, in a new request for information (RFI) posted cryptically on April Fools’ Day.
The spacecraft, dubbed Dragon XL, will weigh about 15 to 16 tonnes (33,000–35,000 kg) at launch and will almost certainly require a fully or partially expendable Falcon Heavy launch for each trip to the Moon. Will be NASA made a logical and balanced decision at the time, leveraging existing investment and knowledge with SpaceX and Dragon while avoiding serious technical challenges. That’s why the new RFI issued on April 1st is so exciting.
NASA begins by citing the fine text in the original 2018 Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) Request for Bids (RFP) that allows the agency to accept and consider new proposals from new and existing suppliers for the 17-year duration of the program. allows to do. The government claims that its key objectives are to “inform and promote planning reasons, input requests, competition” and “[determine] whether to perform an on-ramp in 2022.”
NASA didn’t elaborate, but based on the rest of the document, it appears the agency intends to use this RFI to help decide whether to “on-ramp” its existing Dragon XL contract with SpaceX. Or not. However, as it progresses, the document becomes more intriguing and revealed. Afterwards, NASA clarifies what it wants to talk to the respondents about. The agency regularly mentions its desire to significantly expand the scope of the GLS in a list of eight primary questions.
NASA asks whether Responses will be able to deliver additional goods to “lunar orbits [and] the lunar surface” or provide “dedicated delivery tug capability” or a “quick response delivery service” to help “establish a robust supply”. Will do Chain in deep space.” NASA also wants to know how GLS providers can “reduce operational costs,” “reduce upfront costs,” and “reduce the cost impact of required modifications.”
NASA Questions #2 and #3 ask for information on “new and/or inventive capabilities” during the “next five years” that could “substantially increase … freight delivery capacity”, and states that “at least Offers greater than [cargo] capabilities may be considered more favorable.”
NASA is particularly interested in the potential benefits of cheaper and more capable deep space cargo transport services than Dragon XL. However, the RFI reads as if it was sent directly to SpaceX between the lines. “Is your organization interested in on-ramping on the GLS contract to deliver the logistics services outlined in the original solicitation?”
SpaceX is the only business with a GLS contract that can “on-ramp,” a euphemism for “starting work.” NASA expresses interest in cargo transportation capabilities beyond the criteria of the original contract in the following questions, and inquires about innovative new capabilities that might enable such enhancements. NASA also “recognizes” and suggests that it is open to investigating unconventional solutions, such as each cargo delivery requiring “more than one launch” or helping the government “reduce upfront expenditure”.
Simply put, while this allows any US company to notify NASA of new GLS options, it’s not hard to assume that this new RFI is at least primarily aimed at SpaceX for Dragon XL enhancements or The option is to allow suggestions. NASA has already committed to investing at least $3 billion on the Human Landing System (HLS) program to develop the Starship moon lander as well as a fully reusable launch vehicle and to launch and maintain it. Committed to develop the necessary infrastructure.
The Starship architecture that SpaceX and NASA are currently developing could be used to transport dozens of tons of pressurized cargo to lunar orbit, the Gateway, the lunar surface, or anywhere else NASA wants with very little change. Reap the benefits of that significant investment by dramatically reducing upfront costs, helping to create a “vibrant” deep space supply chain, and outperforming Dragon XL’s cargo capabilities by a factor of 5, 10, or even 20 Elevation will tick practically every box in NASA’s new RFI.
Of course, there are technical hurdles to overcome and there are grounds to believe that Starship will not be able to easily replace the Dragon XL. Even the Dragon XL was in danger of exceeding the Gateway’s visiting vehicle mass limit of 14 tonnes. The Starship would be at least 100-200 tons, much larger than the Gateway. Dragon XL will use non-cryogenic propellant and will remain at the Gateway for at least 6-12 months at a time. NASA has also looked into the ability to deploy Dragon XL as a crew cabin or toilet, to temporarily relieve the Gateway’s severely limited habitable volume.
Starship’s main engines use cryogenic propellant, which wants nothing more than to heat up and boil into a gas, making it difficult to stay aboard the station for months. While those issues are likely to be resolved, it’s worth noting that Starship isn’t a perfect match out of the box. If SpaceX just informs NASA that it is content to proceed with Dragon XL as proposed, the RFI could end in a whimper. We’ll have to wait and see. NASA plans to hold an industry day on April 20 to better explain the goals of RFI.
Responses are due through May 31, 2022, after which the agency will determine whether to proceed with procurement or on-ramp Dragon XL. Given that SpaceX has been selected by NASA for HLS and GLS, it is not difficult to assume that the space agency is becoming increasingly conscious that the Gateway and Dragon XL seem redundant compared to the Starship vehicle that NASA is now developing. to do is supporting SpaceX. Currently, work on all three programs is in progress.
Recently, NASA and SpaceX have been discussing the potential of adding a toilet and using the Dragon XL as a second crew cabin and bathroom to supplement the reduced habitable volume of the Gateway’s stand-alone habitat. Only time will tell how the cards fall in the end. Gwynne Shotwell and Elon Musk, I think, will design the Dragon XL with the capability and capabilities to serve as a shelter for early Artemis manned missions (aka Lunar Module role after the Apollo 13 SM LOX tank explosion).