If all goes according to plan, privately owned, space travel company SpaceX will send an unmanned capsule, launched from its own Falcon rocket, to dock with the International Space Station on April 30. It will be the first time a privately owned spaceship docks with a space station in orbit and it will mark a new era of private, manned space travel.
Under the watchful eye of NASA, the program might quickly get the United States back in space, while being mindful of budgetary concerns.
“NASA‘s International Space Station program, along with our international partners, will take a look at the readiness of both the station and SpaceX for the mission,” NASA officials said, according to an article in Forbes. “If all is go, then SpaceX will be given a green light for an April 30 launch.”
Called the Commercial Crew Development Program, NASA’s goal in a round of grants last year was “to accelerate the availability of U.S. commercial crew transportation capabilities and reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. Through this activity, NASA also may be able to spur economic growth as potential new space markets are created,” the space agency said in a press release at the time.The lion’s share of those grants, $92 million, went to Boeing for development of their front-runner CST-100 spacecraft that uses existing materials and technology that is safe and affordable. The CST-100 is planned to carry up to seven people or a combination of people and cargo and is to be compatible with a variety of existing expendable launch vehicles. That vehicle is slated to fly in 2015, following two test flights earlier that year.
SpaceX began work on that concept too. Their version, called Dragon, is slated to fly next month.
The seven-seat Dragon spaceship will be unmanned for April’s operation, but the next goal for SpaceX is to send a crew to the International Space Station so NASA does not have to rely on Russian technology, currently priced at about $400 million per ride. Dragon costs about $115 million.
“My vision is for a fully reusable rocket transport system between Earth and Mars that is able to re-fuel on Mars – this is very important – so you don’t have to carry the return fuel when you go there,” SpaceX (and PayPal) founder Elon Musk told the BBC.
Flickr photo by mr.skeleton