NASA's space shuttle program may be over, but a new kind of space shuttling is just getting started. Even better, the new, private era of space missions seems to be moving along even faster than expected, as SpaceX and NASA have tentatively agreed to combine the two remaining test missions into one.
Originally, SpaceX's launch to the International Space Station (which would be completed using a Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket) required two test demonstrations: One would include a "rendezvous" in which SpaceX flies near the ISS, and a second would include an actual docking with the ISS. If that sounds like a real mission and not a "test demonstration," you're right: SpaceX would indeed be delivering some sort of "limited cargo," according to Spaceflight Now. But it seems as though SpaceX is both ambitious and ahead of schedule, as they asked NASA, which is the public partner of the in-part publicly funded SpaceX, to approve the combining of these two missions into a single one--or, more accurately, to just ditch the first rendezvous-only flight.
There's no real rush here; the last space shuttle mission replenished the ISS's supplies to the extent that the astronauts aboard will be perfectly well-equipped through 2012. But SpaceX is evidently eager to start making regular deliveries to the ISS, which, of course, is the reason for its $1.6 billion contract with NASA. NASA, for its part, "technically have agreed" to the combination of the test flights--formal approval has yet to be given, though that seems inevitable. It's a good sign for proponents of the new private world of space travel--SpaceX seems more capable than ever. Of course, if you're more in the mood for some very-recent-events nostalgia, you can check out our complete coverage of the last space shuttle launch here.
Great news, now let's see it fly.
if safety is not compromised faster is better, 2 thumbs up for both NASA and SpaceX!
"Great news, now let's see it fly"
The Falcon 9 booster has flown to orbit twice already, and on the second flight (last December) it delivered a functional Dragon and 8 microsatellites to orbit (1 US Army sat, some NRO sats & a few others), then the 2nd stage re-lit and put itself in a 7,000+ mile orbit as practice for launching satellites to a geostationart transfer orbit.
After this the Dragon made a couple orbits, maintaining its internal atmosphere, then it re-entered and made a precision landing <800 meters from the pickup ship off the California coast. For comparison, a Soyuz is lucky if it lands within 20-30 kilometers of its landing zone.
SpaceX has earned the right to give this a shot the hard way - by flying.
@...i wish everyone crying over the shuttle era ending were as informed as you...cheers
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but Ria Novosti ( Russia's media outlet), had an article saying that the Russians are a long way from allowing this docking.
Russia manages the ISS, as I understand it, and they apparently can say no.
The claim was that they did not have enough proof that SpaceX was safe for this mission.
Maybe they were just blowing smoke -- just thought trhat I'd mention it.
If spaceX can dock safely with the ISS, this may short circuit Russia's decision to dump the ISS in the ocean 2020.
The Roscosmos "threat" not to allow Dragon to approach ISS hasn't much teeth since the US pays ~80% of the stations annual operating costs.
What they're really afraid of is SpaceX fielding the Dragon's integrated launch escape/landing thrusters, which is the biggest part of starting to fly crews with it. They get test fired next spring. Carrying a crew of 7 like the Shuttle vs. the 3 seats in Soyuz and at less than half the cost is a big deal.
So is having 3 main parachutes when it only needs one, two drogue parachutes when it only needs one, and having a manual parachute release lever in the cockpit if the automatic systems fail.
Animation of Dragon landing using thrusters -
I think a new kind of space shuttle to take us into space should use more powerful propulsion technologies, such as fusion-powered plasma turbines, instead of old-dated chemical rockets. www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSkxPghXTCg
Latest update is the announcement at the NewSpace 2011 conference of Super Draco, the thrusters Dragon will use for launch abort and propulsive landings. Test firings are to start "soon" at the SpaceX test center in McGregor, Texas, and the launch abort systems design review is in September. Moving fast....