The launch of the second ISS resupply mission by SpaceX today went off without a hitch, but there was a propellant valve problem in the Dragon spacecraft that appeared after launch, disabling several of the thruster pods. The SpaceX team worked the problem and got all four thruster pods functioning again – all since the launch this morning!
This is the way space technology should be – there will be problems with hardware and software once it is really used in space, and so far with both of the resupply missions the SpaceX folks have shown they can solve problems under pressure.
I think this is especially difficult because of the number of naysayers that keep popping up, speaking negatively about commercial space.
I’ve said it before…all space hardware is commercial space hardware. NASA doesn’t build rockets, or satellites, or hardware for the space station. Rockets and such are all built by companies. Maybe the government is paying for it – and in this case, they are paying SpaceX for the resupply missions, and a bunch of grants up front to develop the hardware.
Chrysler built the Saturn V first stage. Practically every piece of hardware we have flown into space was created in the private sector, except perhaps things like experiment packages. (Space probes from JPL don’t count. I don’t really known how JPL is funded, and I’m too lazy to look it up right now.)
I think part of the difference here is that while NASA had oversight in the development of Dragon and the Falcon launch vehicles, they didn’t have design input – at least, not like they did in the old days. The Merlin engine and Draco thruster were designed by SpaceX, not in Houston. There were parameters set by NASA for what they wanted if they were to buy services (I personally think they were still too intrusive) but the design and construction were SpaceX.
So once again SpaceX has successfully solved a problem that could have not only kept the mission from success, but would have ignited a lot of glee from the chattering classes who think government is the only way to do anything. Good job, folks. I hope the docking goes well also.