Making History: Part 1–Off the Ground

Launch successful!

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon Capsule lifted off from Cape Canaveral, kicking-off a one month trek to the International Space Station to achieve the final stages of NASA’s COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) requirements.

After launch, Dragon achieved stable orbit, successfully deployed its solar panels and responded to communications from ground controllers, thereby putting behind it over 90% of the things that can go wrong with an automated spacecraft.

There is still a lot of work to do before astronauts aboard the space station get to crack it open and see what’s inside.  Dragon must catch up with the ISS, open communication with it, and then allow the astronauts on board the station to take control of it and put it through its paces.  It’ll approach the station in stages, keeping its distance until everyone is sure that it is safe to bring the capsule closer.  Then it will pass under the station (yes, with lots of photo ops), cross in front of it, over it, and then approach to within range of the station’s grappling arm.  The entire process from launch to connection will take a little over 20 days.

Like a bird leaving the nest, SpaceX will now take the lessons learned and begin to follow its own destiny as this success further expands their launch manifest.  Their $1000/lb price for orbital launches opens up a host of opportunities for private industry that have never been profitable before.  Every entrepreneur that puts together a business plan involving space technology takes space travel one more step toward routine and away from the image of a charity case, always going to the government with hat in hand for funding to stay alive.  There have been the various types of communications and Earth observation satellites, which have made a decent living independent of direct government funding for a while now, but now we begin to see new ideas that up to now have been the realm of science fiction.  Here are just a few of the space ventures that you can participate in, either as a costumer or investor.

Bigelow Aerospace

LunarX Prize

Orbital Resources

SpaceX Dragon Lab

This is the shortlist, and any or all of these could one day put people in space who will not be government employees, relying mostly on private or indirect public funding.

Did you hear me?  You, or your children, or your grandchildren could go to space.

This is where you leap into the air and go “Weeeeeee”.

No really, I’m serious.

Oh, wait…Congress last week voted to eliminate the competition for Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) funding to just one contender.  They want to make CCDev funding a winner-take-all award, so they can back only one participant, in a blatant and obvious attempt to grant someone a monopoly.  Congress wants to turn back the clock to the good old days when only the exclusive few corporations, the ones with Congresspersons and Senators in their pockets, got to participate in the space race.  I am not sure that companies like SpaceX, Blue Origins, and Liberty even need funded space act agreements to continue forward with their human spaceflight efforts anymore.  But I am sure that without that paltry funding, the more recent, New Space industry startups (i.e. not Liberty or Boeing) will be forced into costly and unnecessary delays.  If Congress uses CCDev money on SLS or Orion, they might buy an extra window or camera or something for  those vehicles, but putting those same dollars into multiple competing efforts under CCDev means that we’ll have a diverse mix of independent companies, both small and large, both old and new, moving at the same rate from an equal footing, following multiple technology paths toward the same goal of placing humankind on a one way growth path into space.  This is how an industry is built…and it is a direct investment in the future financial health of this country and in our children who will inherit it from us.

$1,000/lb may seem like a lot, but it is much, much less than any government-owned spacecraft has ever cost and opens up the windows to space for us all.

Lets keep this good idea moving forward and upward.

Congrats, SpaceX.  No one else will be the first, but you won’t be the last.

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~ by Bill Housley on May 22, 2012.

2 Responses to “Making History: Part 1–Off the Ground”

  1. Bill, thanks for stopping by. Having watched the entire space age develop (well, I didn’t see Goddard’s efforts), it really is exciting watching the current events unfolding.

    And yes, the politics of killing CCDev and the silliness of the Senate Launch System will prove destructive of an American space exploration effort.

    • I’m worrying less and less about the survival of New Space, but I do see a danger of it being coopted by the status quo. We need true competition to keep the costs down and keep them falling.

      Space…it’s not just for governments anymore! Yeeha!

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