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.