Making History: There and Back Again

Dragon on the barge after being retrieved from the Pacific Ocean after splashdown.

Sorry Tolkien, but the name works too well for the theme of these comments not to use it.

Dragon has now made the full circle on its demonstration flight, successfully reentering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the Baja coast with cargo from the Space Station.

Is this doing things the old way?  I’ve read comments to that effect.  I say no.  It was done by a private company…that’s new…and it was done far less expensively than ever before.  The big thing however is that, currently, the only other cargo ships servicing the ISS are designed to burn up in the atmosphere on reentry.  So by being able to bring things home, private spacecraft Falcon/Dragon succeeds where the ESA, Japanese , and Russian (i.e. Government-owned) cargo craft fail, and spends less money doing it.

Their goal is to do the same thing within three years with passengers aboard, restoring the lost U.S. human launch capability, but if you think it’ll end there, think again.  Another Falcon 9/Dragon will fly later this year and Falcon Heavy (basically three Falcon rockets strapped together) will test launch next year, entering the market as the largest heavy-lift launcher in the world and the second-largest ride to space in history.

SpaceX Falcon-9 Heavy

SpaceX Falcon-9 Heavy (Photo credit: FlyingSinger)

The target that SpaceX has in mind of course is Mars. Somebody I spoke with on Facebook said that he hoped someone had talked Elon Musk out of his stated goal of landing a greenhouse on Mars…I don’t think that has happened.  Musk said yesterday that this successful mission brings humankind closer to being a multi-planet species.  Obviously, Elon sees red, and the Falcon Heavy can do it.

SpaceX advertises that to launch 53 metric tons (roughly 2X a shuttle launch) on a Falcon Heavy to Geo-Transfer Orbit costs $83 Million.  For that price, GSO (Geo-Synchronous Orbit) satellite customers will be shoving each other into the pool to get to the front of the line and breaking their fingers reaching for their wallets. Falcon’s closest competitor, the Delta 4 heavy, costs three times that much and lifts a lot less. With such capability and competitive pricing it won’t take long for the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy to build the launch experience and history to become human rated. Falcon 9 already has a busy launch manifest of both private and foreign government launches, and SpaceX recently signed a contract with IntelSat for a Falcon Heavy launch.

Yes, the Dragon capsule is back from its voyage to the International Space Station, but there will be more Dragons and Falcons flying soon. SpaceX’s journey…and our journey as a species…has just begun.

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~ by Bill Housley on May 31, 2012.

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