SpaceX’s Reisman ready for the next giant leap with Dragon V2

by Chris Bergin

Dragon V2 Program Lead Dr. Garrett Reisman believes SpaceX’s new crew vehicle is a “giant leap forward” in safety and technology. The new vehicle – unveiled last Thursday – is the leading contender to win the right to launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), a viable advance on the current mode of transportation that his former NASA colleagues currently use to ride to the orbital outpost.

Dr. Reisman’s Dragon V2:

Dr. Garrett Reisman is a veteran of three shuttle flights and an International Space Station Expedition crewmember. He even served as a Colonial Marine on the fictitious Battlestar Galactica.

Following his retirement from NASA, Dr. Reisman joined what many consider as the main ray of hope about the future, taking up a key position at SpaceX.

Now the Program Lead for the Dragon V2, Dr. Reisman brings with him a huge amount of space flight experience, as the California-based company look to upgrade their role in space from satellite launches and cargo missions, to crew transportation.

The three main contenders to win back domestic crew launch independence for the United States – SNC’s Dream Chaser, Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon – are all making good progress via NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Z3At least one – hopefully two – of the contenders will progress towards a test mission sometime between 2015 and 2016, with the latest expanded FPIP manifest (L2) showing a conservative placeholder for a CCP test flight at the end of 2016.

According to Reisman, that flight will have a NASA astronaut on board. It was previously thought the test missions would involve a roster of internally selected astronauts.

“So the rule is that at least one of the crew on the test flights has to be a NASA astronaut,” noted Dr. Reisman to media at the Dragon V2 reveal event (click here for video).

“Now it’s up for interpretation whether the other crew members are NASA, or SpaceX, or a combination thereof.”

Z7Pending a successful test flight, Dragon V2 – providing she wins the Commercial Crew process – will change call signs to USCV-1 (US Crew Vehicle -1).

This flight is currently manifested – per the FPIP schedule – for docking with the ISS on December 7, 2017. However, efforts are being made to accelerate that date in light of the recent geopolitical uncertainties surrounding relationships with the Russians.

For that Dragon mission, the crew will be entirely made up from NASA astronauts.

“When we’re flying regularly, it’s a rental car.  So it’ll be all NASA astronauts,” added Dr. Reisman – as much as the vehicle will be controlled from MCC-X in Hawthorne during launch and ahead of entering – and departing – the ISS’ neighborhood, as is the scenario with cargo Dragons under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Z5“We’ll run mission control, and we’ll be controlling from the ground, but we’re not going to have anyone inside other than the NASA astronauts.”

Standing just off stage from the new Dragon V2 that was enjoying the glare of the media for the first time last Thursday, Dr. Reisman provided insight into the obvious differences between the sporty looking capsule and the spacecraft he has had the honor of riding to space in.

Dr. Reisman launched with the STS-123 crew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on March 11, 2008 and returned to Earth with the crew of STS-124 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on June 14, 2008. 

Z4During the interim period, he served with both the Expedition 16 and Expedition 17 crews as a flight engineer aboard the ISS – and as a result was trained to fly on the Russian Soyuz, which serves as a lifeboat for Expedition crewmembers.

On STS-132, he served as Mission Specialist 1 (MS-1) aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which launched on May 14, 2010. During the mission, Dr. Reisman conducted two EVAs on the ISS.

“Oh, man, they’re very, very different,” noted the New Jersey native when asked to compare Dragon V2 to Shuttle.

Z12“The thing about V2 is, it has the potential to be a lot safer than Shuttle. (You can) abort at any time, that’s something the Shuttle couldn’t do. You know, it’s got very robust design for entry, it can sustain a number of failures and still be safe.

“The Shuttle was a wonderful, wonderful vehicle, but it was very fragile. It operated very close to the edge of its operating envelope.”

In comparison to the Russian Soyuz – another capsule design vehicle – Dr. Reisman noted the huge difference in internal volume and the impressive advances in technology.

Z14“I trained in the Soyuz, (and) there’s so much more elbow room in there compared to the Soyuz. Plus, instead of just taking two of your buddies, you can take six, so there’s a lot of advantages.

“It’s got modern electronics, modern materials in the heat shield,” added the astronaut, who also confirmed SpaceX will be looking to conduct the six hour fast rendezvous profile on Station missions.

“I mean just technologically speaking, it’s a giant leap beyond Soyuz.”

And that’s not to mention the fact Dragon V2 will be capable of propulsive landings on terra firma.

While Soyuz touches down under parachute on the steppes of Kazakhstan, Dragon V2 will land under the power of its SuperDraco thrusters with pinpoint accuracy akin to that of a helicopter.

Parachutes will still be on board as a contingency, as will the ability to abort to a water landing.

Z9Tests of the propulsive landing technology will be conducted at SpaceX’s McGregor test site in Texas, utilizing the DragonFly test vehicle, which will look very similar to the Dragon V2.

These tests will lead up to the first return from space for the V2, which will be aiming for land.

“Our very first V2 is going to come down on land,” Dr. Reisman confirmed. “There is the capability – as a backup – to come down in the water, in an emergency, but yeah we have a couple places picked out where (we will land)… I don’t want to get ahead of (SpaceX CEO) Elon (Musk). (I’ll let) him tell you where.”

Z5Dragon V2 – and her CCP competitors – are now entering the next phase towards returning the domestic crew launch capability that was lost when Atlantis concluded her – and the Shuttle fleet’s – loyal service at the end of STS-135.

This next phase will involve the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) milestones, although the funding related threat of a downselect could see at least one of the contenders missing out on continued NASA funding.

While SpaceX are believed to be the least threatened by such a downselect, Dr. Reisman would like to see the at least one of the competitors moving forward alongside SpaceX.

“Frankly, it’s in NASA’s interest for there to be more than one,” he added. “You always want to have a plan B.

“Just got to convince Congress to pay for it, that’s all.”

(Images via SpaceX, SNC, NASA and L2).

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