Capsules abounding

It’s a sad thing that we have only two human-carrying spacecraft now operational: Russia’s Soyuz, and China’s Shenzhou.

But we’ve now had a test of Orion. It’ll be too many years before Orion is operational, but at least we’re heading there.

And of course there’s SpaceX’s Dragon V2. Yet to be tested, but the cargo Dragon has been flying — can you believe it’s been four years since they did the first orbital test and recovery? — and is going up again next week. (And the first stage booster reportedly will be coming back — or at least they’re going to try to land it on a barge.) Less well known on the street is the other Commercial Crew vehicle, the Boeing CST-100. Schedules call for a pad abort test for Dragon V2 soon (it was supposed to be in November, but it hasn’t happened yet and no new date has been announced) and an in-flight abort test in 2015. CST-100 should have its pad abort test in 2016. Both Dragon V2 and CST-100 are scheduled to have their first crewed test flights in 2017.


By the way, according to the Planetary Society’s Casey Dreier, the final 2015 budget bill provides provides 19% more for Orion and SLS than the administration’s request; Commercial Crew gets 5% less, but that’s still more money than Congress has ever given the program.

But wait, there’s more: Two more human space capsules I wasn’t aware of until today when I learned of this excellent Russian graphic. Russia has an answer to Orion, the awkwardly-named Пилотируемый Транспортный Корабль Нового Поколения, that is, Pilotiruemyi Transportny Korabl Novogo Pokoleniya or PTK NP meaning New Generation Piloted Transport Ship. The most recent information I’ve found suggests the program is having its troubles, but it’s hard to tell what its real status is. First uncrewed test is supposed to be in 2021, with first human flight in 2024 (to the ISS, it says here, but maybe not!)

And there’s India. I had no idea ISRO was working on human spaceflight, but they are: their less awkwardly but still prosaically named Orbital Vehicle is due to have its first uncrewed test flight this month. Ignore the headline on the linked article; according to the article body, it’ll be a suborbital flight.

There are the various commercial space tourism spacecraft too, but these are the current and in-development capsules that are designed for Earth orbit and beyond. Then there are crewed orbital spaceplanes. Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser lost out on the Commercial Crew contract but they are appealing that decision and apparently going ahead with marketing it for non-NASA use. The two others I know of that seem to be under actual development are Reaction Engines Limited’s Skylon and ISRO’s AVATAR. Too many people don’t know it, but it seems we’re finally aiming for a real, diverse future for humans in space.

For more information on all these, see my Wikipedia links and the Space capsule article.


2 thoughts on “Capsules abounding

  1. These are exciting times. For a while, I was worried interest in spaceflight was waning, and that eventually we would see no further human spaceflight.

    Now, if I can only get some of my friends interested in hobby rocketry, I’ll be a happy guy.

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