SpaceX’s Dragon: Offspring of an old Soviet craft? Not likely, engineers say

May 11, 2016 – 09:58 am

Moreover, the crew capacity of Zarya and Dragon is up to 8 and 7 members, respectively. Both also possess a conical re-entry capsule, and are reusable.

Led by the brilliant Soviet engineer Konstantin Feoktistov of the NPO Energia design bureau, the development of the Zarya spacecraft began in the 1980’s, but the project was eventually shelved. Feoktistov himself believed the spacecraft's design was not refined enough to guarantee the required landing precision. Speaking of landing, Russian engineers point out that Dragon has a parachute braking system in addition to the engines – just like Soyuz, another spacecraft designed in the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, some Russian experts mention that since the spacecraft are designed for essentially identical purposes, similarities are inevitable. “Obviously, they had to be similar, since they were created with the same tasks in mind, and the only difference is the shape of the capsule - we stick to the traditional form, while the Americans prefer cones, ” says Ivan Moiseev, scientific supervisor of Russia’s Space Policy Institute.

“As for the rest of it, the resemblance is not unusual, especially considering that both spacecraft were supposed to land using engines, which is pretty risky from the technological point of view. Normally, other solutions are preferable.”

Stealing a spacecraft design - harder than rocket science

As it turns out, no country has ever managed to successfully copy even a space rocket engine. A recent matter involving the U.S. buying a license to manufacture Russian RD-181 rocket engines illustrates this point. According to the agreement between the two countries, the Russians were supposed to assist their American partners with everything, from constructing the plants to installing the engines on launch vehicles. The whole endeavor, however, proved to be a waste of time and money because the entire technological chain of engine production was optimized for Russian industry and proved unsuitable for the U.S. In the end, the Americans chose to buy RD-181 engines from Russia.

Full-size mock-ups of docked Rusisan modules - the Zvezda Service Module, the Zarya Functional Cargo Block, the Pirs Docking Compartment and a multi-role laboratory module. 2010. Source: Mikhail Fomichev / RIA Novosti

“We received an offer to purchase the engines after [the Americans] unsuccessfully tried to produce them, ” said Vladimir Solntsev, president of OAO RSC Energia, in an interview with RBTH. “The current contract includes restrictions on the use of RD-181 engines for military purposes, and we will supply 60 engines worth a total of $1 billion.”

The Americans rejected the idea of producing the engines themselves since they would have to completely rebuild their industry.

“For instance, some components made of carbon fiber in the U.S. are made of metal here, while some of the alloys used in the production are also different, ” said Ivan Moiseev. “Even if some intelligence agency manages to steal the blueprints of a whole rocket, all it can really do is help engineers to come up with a couple of new ideas, but even that is highly doubtful - all the catalysts for any number of new ideas are openly available in textbooks on rocket science.”


Source: rbth.co.uk

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