Improved Heat Shield Materials are key to more reusability and details on the 3D printing of the SuperDraco Engines

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk answered questions following the Dragon V2 spacecraft public reveal in Hawthorne California May 29th 2014.

Dragon V2 in the crew configuration it can take 7 passengers and I think something around, if you really cram stuff in, around a ton of pressurized cargo and 2-3 tons of unpressurized cargo.

The Tesla S can take 7 passenger as well.

Spacex is aiming for 10 flights without any significant refurbishment for the Dragon v2. The thing that will have to be refurbished is the main heat shield. Further improved heat shield [later versions of PICA-X] would mean Spacex could aim for 100 reusable flights.

Heat Shield Material started with NASA PICA and Spacex has improved it Three Times

PICA-X v3 is capable of about a kilowatt per square cm, with is a crazy amount, and sustain that for quite a while, in fact is really [limited?] not by the recession rate, but by the conduction of the heat to the back the tile and then potentially damaging the heat shield support structure.

PICA-X v3 can take 5000 degrees F and double the kinetic energy of mach 25 re-entry.

@ 12:20 “Think of the heat shield like a brake pad. The better that material technology is the more uses it can go through. Just like a brake pad on a car eventually it has to be replaced”

There is a full transcript here

About 36:00 Musk gives a tidbit on the Mars/MCT rocket, about looking forward to using LCH4 /LOX to do tank pressurization instead of pesky helium (since there’s no helium on Mars). He also says that MCT will be fully reusable.

The first Heavy will probably go out of the Cape, in fact, from 39A.

@ 48:30 – astronaut Garret Reisman, program lead for crew vehicles / Dragon v2, states that the first return flights for the vehicle will touch down on land.

3d Printing of the SuperDraco Engines per Elon

One of the technologies that was “really critical to the development of the SuperDraco engine was the ability to do 3d metal printing”, because it is quite a complex engine and was very difficult to form all the cooling channels and the injector head and the throttling mechanism, but being able to print very high strength advanced alloys, I think was crucial to being able to create the SuperDraco engine as it is.

I’m extremely confident in the SuperDraco engine. In fact, we’ve designed it to be super robust.

There’s certainly a reduction of parts count in the SuperDraco engine because it’s printed. In the normal way they have to make an engine is you have to machine a whole bunch of separate parts and then try to weld them together and so it makes it heavier, less robust and much more sensitive to make.

Who’s 3d technology are we using? We’re using a variety of printers. We use EOS, SLM and Concept. They’re all German by the way. Germany’s doing quite well on the 3d printing front.

Long Term Spacex Mission

“SpaceX has a very long term mission. We want to just keep improving our technology until there’s a city on Mars. Well, that could take a long time

Background on PICA-X

Surviving the Heat: The Application of Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablators

The Dragon Capsule, uses a Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) designed to enable Space-X to completely reuse capsules for future missions. Ablators are specific types of heat shielding that are made to turn to gas during re-entry, which causes the heat to be dissipated through the process of convection. In this paper, we are going to examine PICA, its manufacturing, and its testing, as well as explore the other options of heat shielding such as the space shuttle thermal protection system and NASA’s new Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE). We will also discuss the successes and failures of some heat shielding mechanisms to date, namely the Colombia disaster. PICA’s structure will be examined on both a microscopic and macroscopic level to gain an understanding of the properties of the material, possible advancements and where the industry is headed. PICA-X is a huge progression for heat shielding that was designed to take new, larger spacecraft to Mars.

In January 2006, NASA’s Stardust sample capsule returned using a PICA heat shield and set the record for the fastest reentry speed of a spacecraft into Earth’s atmosphere — experiencing speeds of 28,900 miles per hour.

NASA made its expertise and specialized facilities available to SpaceX as the company designed, developed and qualified the 3.6 meter PICA-X shield it in less than 4 years at a fraction of the cost NASA had budgeted for the effort. The result is the most advanced heat shield ever to fly. It can potentially be used hundreds of times for Earth orbit reentry with only minor degradation each time — as proven on this flight — and can even withstand the much higher heat of a moon or Mars velocity reentry.

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