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A Dragon Approaches
May 29, 2012 9:12 AM   Subscribe

NASA's Image of the Day: Dragon on approach to the ISS (SIL) "This image of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft as it approached the space station was taken NASA astronaut Don Pettit. The SpaceX Falcon 9 and its Dragon spacecraft launched on Tuesday, May 22, at 3:44 a.m. EDT."
posted by jquinby (50 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Reaction to seeing the inside of the spacecraft? "Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:18 AM on May 29, 2012


I'd be a teensy bit worried about being on a corporation-owned spaceship that looks like it's wandered off the set of a Ridley Scott film.
posted by permafrost at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Reaction to seeing the inside of the spacecraft? "Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset."

Can one of the scinece type folks here explain why it looks so empty? Why would you send a big, essentially empty box up like that? I'd have thought it would have been packed full like a semi-trailer.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:32 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


SCINECE!

I mean SCIENCE!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:32 AM on May 29, 2012


That photo needs a soundtrack.
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2012


Well, I'm glad Mr. Pettit has all that time to be taking pretty pictures while there's a new and unproven space capsule approaching the station. Maybe these fancy-pants astronauts could be getting more work done up there if they've got so much time on their hands.
posted by Naberius at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Judging from that shot of the inside of the Dragon, I'd say it wandered off the set of a Stanley Kubrick film.
posted by localroger at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2012


Cool. Especially the crazy bright lights from that thing they're orbiting.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:34 AM on May 29, 2012


I'd have thought it would have been packed full like a semi-trailer.

Well, I don't know, but I imagine the simplest explanation would be that he took the picture after they'd finished unloading it.

(Unlike Mr. Goldbricking "I'm too special to work, so I'm going to take pictures now" Don Pettit)
posted by Naberius at 9:36 AM on May 29, 2012


Oh noes!
posted by charred husk at 9:39 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The limiting factor on what the Falcon 9 + Dragon can carry isn't volume, it's weight. The Dragon is roomy because you need empty volume for a human crew (eventual goal), but if you packed it full of supplies it would be too heavy.
posted by localroger at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


10th, this was their demonstration flight. Future flights will be much more full, now that they have demonstrated a tendency not to scatter payloads over the Atlantic ocean.

Although it won't ever be "packed". You can usually reach maximum weight before you get near maximum volume.
posted by BeeDo at 9:43 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Judging from that shot of the inside of the Dragon, I'd say it wandered off the set of a Stanley Kubrick film.

Great, now I don't care about this momentous occasion at all and can think of nothing but the lost Stanley Kubrick film about a man-eating dragon.
posted by griphus at 9:45 AM on May 29, 2012


I'd have thought it would have been packed full like a semi-trailer.

It was. They unloaded it yesterday. Took more than a day apparently.
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on May 29, 2012


Dragon is built to hold 7 astronauts (once it is human-rated), so it's actually pretty roomy inside - if your base-line for roomy is the Apollo capsules. Looking into from the ground where we have, you know, gravity, it looks really cramped. But that's because you're not thinking 3 dimensionally, as Doc would say. This might be one explanation of Kuiper's quote that it was spacious: he's been on the station for a while, and is probably used to the Russian capsules. By that benchmark, this is enormous. There's a nice photo I found through wikipedia that shows Dragon being loaded, here.
There's no way you could do this in previous capsules.

Also, everything that BeeDo and localroger said about density and volume.
posted by physicsmatt at 9:53 AM on May 29, 2012


...upon splashdown, technicians opened the returned capsule to find it packed with 3 tons of used space diapers and a simple hand-written note in Russian that said, "Next time, send more vodka."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:54 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's funny how someone living on a space station could remark that something else looks "sci-fi," but then I found this pic of what the ISS looks like and understood completely. It's like the kitchen sink of control panels.
posted by Big_B at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does anyone think that that picture is actually of one of the European ATVs coming in to dock with Zvezda? The ship has a crossed solar array and the module in the foreground looks Russian.
posted by harlan at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2012


The photo's a bit grainy, but I suppose you really need to crank up the ISO when you're... in space.
posted by bicyclefish at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2012


... this pic of what the ISS looks like ...

Wow, that's one anime wall scroll and five empty pizza boxes short of being an engineering major's dorm room.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


The ship was empty when it approached the ISS, but it was full when it launched. The pass on the first day was really to allow them time to dock with one of the visitor's ships allowing them to unload all the cows lips they could want...

Source
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2012


Am I correct in thinking that because you can see the beams of the Dragon's lights shining into space, it's because the ISS orbits very low, more in the upper atmosphere than interplanetary space? Light must be scattering off gas molecules?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2012


Well, I'm glad Mr. Pettit has all that time to be taking pretty pictures while there's a new and unproven space capsule approaching the station. Maybe these fancy-pants astronauts could be getting more work done up there if they've got so much time on their hands.
[...]
(Unlike Mr. Goldbricking "I'm too special to work, so I'm going to take pictures now" Don Pettit)

Where is this coming from?
posted by stebulus at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2012


Where is this coming from?

A place of humor?
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:05 AM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


At the NASA museum in Huntsville, AL they have a full scale mockup of the ISS which you can walk through. It's rather startling because, really, there is no floor or ceiling; every exposed surface is either access for storage or used for controls.
posted by localroger at 10:08 AM on May 29, 2012


I looked him up - Pettit operated the space arm that brought Dragon in...and also, he's the guy who did the zero-G Angry Birds demo.
posted by jquinby at 10:08 AM on May 29, 2012


It looks like the link leads to the rotating gallery, not to the image described?
posted by Think_Long at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2012


Interesting - the image has changed to an interior of the Dragon spacecraft, even though the thumbnail still shows the earlier exterior shot.

harlan may have been right - maybe a mixup?
posted by jquinby at 10:15 AM on May 29, 2012


Finally, some real life scifi corridor.
posted by Freen at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2012


Today I learned that modern spacecraft are usually androgynous.
posted by swift at 10:23 AM on May 29, 2012


Does anyone think that that picture is actually of one of the European ATVs coming in to dock with Zvezda?

Yeah, I downloaded the photo and looked at in Photoshop. That does look like the x style place of solar panels of the ATV
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on May 29, 2012


Well, now that the main link is fux0red, and apparently of the wrong space thing, anyhow, maybe let's jettison this post.
posted by notyou at 10:35 AM on May 29, 2012


We should make an Aliens reference. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on May 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


Don't mess with Daenerys Targaryen's children!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:43 AM on May 29, 2012


It makes me think of a scene from a Robinson novel involving zero-G sex. And also Aliens.
posted by angrycat at 10:58 AM on May 29, 2012


Hey, does that sign in the back say "Weyland-Yutani"? And what was that -- a rat? Eeh, must be seeing things...
posted by scolbath at 11:07 AM on May 29, 2012


Yeah, that the link is borked now. Looks like there was a snafu with the posting. :(

Sorry gang.
posted by jquinby at 11:21 AM on May 29, 2012


Huh. Works fine for me. Space magics?
posted by elizardbits at 11:26 AM on May 29, 2012


It's showing a photo of the inside of the ship now instead of the (apparently misattributed) photo of the docking.
posted by griphus at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2012


That's really cool, but I'm more impressed that it was launched on a Space-X launch vehicle.
posted by Mister_A at 12:01 PM on May 29, 2012


I looked him up - Pettit operated the space arm that brought Dragon in...

Hey, don't forget Kuipers!
posted by Pendragon at 1:19 PM on May 29, 2012


I'd have thought it would have been packed full like a semi-trailer.

For this COTS Demo Flight 2+^ (which actually combines objectives of the original 2 and 3), the cargo payload was limited to 550kg of less-essential items, and the return payload will be 660kg. The capacity of the pressure vessel, however, is something like 3310kg, and the unpressurized "trunk" (in the fairing behind the capsule, not used on this mission), Dragon can carry an additional 3310kg. (Return trip maximum weights are somewhat less.) This makes it by far the largest capacity to orbit of any other vehicle since Shuttle, and the contracted SpX-1 through SpX-12 missions (2013 through 2015) will likely use just about all of it.

The European ATV has a theoretically larger capacity per flight, but only goes up once every year and a half, and usually much of its payload is fuel to reboost the altitude of ISS. The currently-docked ATV, Eduardo Amaldi^, only brought up 2200kg of dry cargo. That's approximately what a typical Progress brings up. if Falcon/Dragon can keep up the good work with the operational phase, they'll beat Progress hands down. Of course, no other cargo spacecraft right now has return capability; they're just used for trash removal. Having that alone is a huge boon to ISS as a program, since the Soyuz can only return three cosmonauts and a handful of personal effects each.

Clearly, after years of missteps and the stand-down of Shuttle, NASA is revealing signs of giddiness thanks to SpaceX.

Am I correct in thinking that because you can see the beams of the Dragon's lights shining into space, it's because the ISS orbits very low, more in the upper atmosphere than interplanetary space? Light must be scattering off gas molecules?

Well, there's no such thing as a bright line between the two -- there's just less and less atmosphere the farther you get from a gravity well. ISS orbit is 330-410km generally, and there's enough air there to create enough friction that ISS is constantly slowing -- thus the reboost it needs regularly. Still, this is well above the point where re-entry effects are felt.

The light you see is probably being reflected, however, off small bits of debris and gas from ISS itself (and its attendant craft). That's my theory, anyway.

Pendragon, jquinby was being completely fair -- I believe Kuipers was trained as his backup, but Pettit was the operator of the Canadarm2 and deserves the credit. He has spent pretty much the entire mission thus far training to keep his hand in.

Am I correct that this is the photo that was meant to be linked? Perhaps some mod action?
posted by dhartung at 7:28 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


dhartung - that one will stand in perfectly!

The original picture (which I found again, correctly attributed as "ATV-3 approaches ISS") was quickly replaced by the interior shot of Dragon.
posted by jquinby at 5:05 AM on May 30, 2012


The limiting factor on what the Falcon 9 + Dragon can carry isn't volume, it's weight. The Dragon is roomy because you need empty volume for a human crew (eventual goal), but if you packed it full of supplies it would be too heavy.

Incorrect in respects to internal cargo. The Dragon is generally going to be volume limited for internal pressurized cargo. Cargo metrics are generally based in Cargo Transfer Bag Equivalent (CTBE) estimations. ISS CTBE mass is generally averaged at ~25lb/CTBE. CTBE volume is 1.86 ft3/.053 m3. SpaceX lists the payload volume as 10 m3 (350 ft3), but that's subject to various constraints due to the internal stowage structures. A Dragon that is exclusively carrying internal cargo will generally fill up before hitting mass limits. Some of the Dragon CRS flights will be carrying external cargo in the trunk structure, which may impact the amount of internal cargo available for that mission due to mass limits.

Dragon doesn't actually have a greater payload mass capability than ATV, but as previously mentioned, the largest chunk of ATV payload is usually propellant for ISS reboost. It's easy to underestimate how big ATV is, it's a large spacecraft. I don't think Dragon will actually be capable of higher payload mass than HTV until Falcon 9 1.1 comes online.
posted by resplendentoops at 7:51 AM on May 30, 2012


Oh! Now to give a proper answer to Slithy_Tove: What you are seeing are the ATV's maneuvering thrusters firing. I'm getting out of my terminology wheelbox here, but I think you have four thrusters providing balance, one on the top nudging it down, and two on the right adding or correcting a slight roll. Those aren't beams of light, that's propellant (which is lit by floodlights from ISS, including the one in foreground). It's an amazing shot.
posted by dhartung at 12:20 PM on May 30, 2012


Home again!
posted by jquinby at 8:50 AM on May 31, 2012


NASA TV is always a good resource at times like these.
posted by aught at 9:01 AM on May 31, 2012


Here's the first picture of Dragon as it floats in the Pacific Ocean waiting to be picked up.
posted by homunculus at 12:23 PM on May 31, 2012


If I'm reading Google Earth right, that puts it not too far off the coast of Baja California.

(re-reads article, sees the bit about being 500 miles SW of LA)

Ah.
posted by jquinby at 12:52 PM on May 31, 2012


Could SpaceX land the first humans on Mars?
posted by homunculus at 2:56 PM on May 31, 2012


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