Tag Archives: Dragon capsule

Artist illustation of BFT taking off. Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX lands Falcon Heavy boosters — plans to reuse them later this year

Well, now it just looks like SpaceX is just showing off. Just over a month after its Crew Dragon capsule mated with the International Space Station in the first commercial docking with the ISS, it successfully launched and landed its Falcon Heavy for mission Arabsat-6A. This is the same Falcon Heavy that launched a cherry-red Tesla into orbit, giving its driver, Starman, one of the coolest road trips in history.

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The megarocket, which stands 230 tall, is the most powerful rocket currently in operation. Launching off of Pad 39A, the Falcon Heavy launched its first commercial payload, a satellite for the Saudi Arabian company Arabsat which will deliver television, radio, Internet, and mobile communications to customers in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Built by Lockheed Martin, this is the first satellite for the company as part of a batch of contracts worth $650 million.

“Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another,” Musk said after the experimental launch. “There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did for you.”

Following booster separation, the Falcon Heavy’s two reusable side boosters landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone-ship, stationed in the Atlantic. During a demo flight, the center booster crashed after running out of fuel, but all ran smoothly for Thursday’s flight. Later on Thursday, Elon Musk said that both payload fairings were recovered. With an individual price of $6 million per, SpaceX plans to reuse these in for a Starlink mission at a later date.

Since SpaceX launched Starman, they have seen a boon in the number of orders for its Falcon Heavy: five contracted missions, three of which are commercial, as well as a $130 million contract to lift the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite.

In a Wednesday tweet, Elon Musk said that the Falcon Heavy uses the new Block 5 version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launched its initial voyage last year. Musk said that Block 5 adds “some risk of failure between 5% to 10%,” as “the changes are unproven” even with “many good design improvements.”

Beyond that though, the Block 5 upgrades add nearly 10 percent more thrust to Falcon Heavy compared with the demo mission last year. And while previous versions of the Falcon 9 were meant to only fly two or three times, the Block 5 should be capable of launching as many as 10 times with no refurbishment between flights.

The launch was originally scheduled for the day prior, on April 10, but was scrubbed due to high-altitude shear winds.

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Elon Musk shares full-body pic of SpaceX’s sleek astronaut suit

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Credit: SpaceX.

Last month, Elon Musk teased fans with a new space suit his company had been working on. It’s sleek, all white and black, really SciFi-looking , unlike the space suits NASA hasn’t been able to revamp for decades. Now, Musk shared a full-body picture of the space suit next to Crew Dragon, the next-generation spacecraft designed to carry astronauts into space.

Who wore it better?

Along with Boeing, SpaceX has been awarded a $2.6 billion contract to design and develop technology capable of carrying humans into space. The plan is expected to loosen the nation’s dependency on Russian logistics and things are shaping up nicely. Already, the Crew Dragon capable of carrying four people has passed the initial design reviews and certifications to proceed to the next level of testing.

Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station, a feat previously achieved only by governments.

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If everything goes according to plan, a manned flight to the International Space Station on board a Dragon spacecraft should launch in late 2018 after an initial unmanned launch. The astronauts might travel to the space station wearing these new suits that seem taken right out of The Martian.

Looks can be deceiving, though. This is merely a pressurized suit, which isn’t suitable for space walks, let alone a trip outside Mars. Rather, these suits are designed to protect astronauts on route to the ISS in the unlikely event that their cabin becomes depressurized.

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This new full-length press photo reveals some interesting details. The boots look very light-weight, giving the impression of enhanced mobility. Quite fashionable, too. The pants feature flex zones in the knee area for mobility when bending. Similarly, padded areas in the back colored in black also seem to be meant to enhance comfort while seated in the Dragon capsule.

Earlier this year, Boeing unveiled its own space suit — a bulkier blue version meant for astronauts riding Boeing’s Starliner space taxi. At less than 20 pounds, the suit weighs about 10 pounds less than the traditional orange launch-and-entry suit used during the shuttle era.

It’s thus quite exciting to follow how both of these private enterprises are making huge progress. Now, which of the two is your favorite?

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SpaceX’s Dragon capsule passse critical safety test – closer to ferrying astronauts to ISS

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The SpaceX Dragon crew capsule’s milestone safety state which took place the other day passed NASA’s approval board. Back then, the capsule was launched atop a trunk powered by  eight SuperDraco engines to a height of  1,187 meters (3,900 feet) at 345mph. The capsule then separated from the trunk and deployed three parachutes that touched it down for a splash in the Atlantic, very close to shore.

“This is the first major flight test for a vehicle that will bring astronauts to space for the entire Commercial Crew Program,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX. “The successful test validated key predictions as it relates to the transport of astronauts to the space station.  With NASA’s support, SpaceX continues to make excellent and rapid progress in making the Crew Dragon spacecraft the safest and most reliable vehicle ever flown.”

NASA awarded $30 million to SpaceX for the successful test. Next, the Dragon Crew capsule will move to in-flight abort tests scheduled for this fall. The pod will perform the exact same operation as this most recent test,  but in the troposphere and near the speed of sound. Ultimately, both simulations and real tests such as these, will build enough confidence to allow a manned-crow to be boarded on the pod and launched to the International Space Station.  If all goes well, this could happen as early as 2017, making in the very first private venture to ferry a crew to the space station.

SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, proudly sitting next to the Dragon Capsule. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, proudly sitting next to the Dragon Capsule. Image: SpaceX

“This test was highly visible and provided volumes of important information, which serves as tangible proof that our team is making significant progress toward launching crews on American rockets from America soon,” said Jon Cowart, partner manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “The reams of data collected provide designers with a real benchmark of how accurate their analyses and models are at predicting reality. As great as our modern computational methods are, they still can’t beat a flight test, like this, for finding out what is going on with the hardware.”

But this is a competitive race, and Boeing is right on the heels of SpaceX. The company is running tests with its own  CST-100 capsule, which will see pad abort tests in February 2017, with an uncrewed flight test in April and a full mission with a test pilot and NASA astronaut slated for July, 2017.

Since NASA decommissioned its space shuttle program in 2011, the only viable mean of sending astronauts to the space station is with the Russian Soyuz craft. Once SpaceX or Boeing demonstrate their first manned maiden voyage, NASA will finally unchain itself from its Russian dependency and launches will become a lot cheaper due to market competition.


Header image: SpaceX’s Dragon Crew capsule launch off a specially built platform at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX supply ship arrives at space station with groceries

It’s a belated Christmas on the International Space Station – a shipment of much needed groceries arrived, delivered by SpaceX.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule managed to latch on to the ISS without any problems. The supply ferry will spend four weeks attached to the station as part of a resupply missions. The SpaceX craft launched on January 10.

This is actually the first time SpaceX used its autonomous spaceport drone ship to recapture the first stage rocket for re-use. The operation was a partial success: although the rocket made it back to the drone ship, the landing was hard and resulted in some damage. Further analysis will be required to make future landings smoother.

The six astronauts onboard the ISS were getting a bit low on provisions, because the Dragon capsule launch was delayed by several weeks; it was initially supposed to get to the ISS before Christmas, but it was plagued by engineering problems. Still, it got there in time and astronauts were thrilled to receive the new provisions.

“We’re excited to have it on board,” said U.S. astronaut Wilmore said. “We’ll be digging in soon.”

Wilmore is especially excited about the mustard supplies which he really loves – he says that the station’s condiment cabinet has been empty for weeks. SpaceX is currently the only supplier capable of returning items to Earth, but Japan and Russia are also planning deliveries this year.

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is an American space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California, USA. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and ultimately facilitating colonization of Mars. So far, SpaceX has already become an important player in low-orbit space transportation, but they have even bigger plans.

 

A screencapture of the Dragon docked with the ISS. (c) NASA.tv

SpaceX Dragon Capsule docks with ISS

A screencapture of the Dragon docked with the ISS. (c) NASA.tv

A screencapture of the Dragon docked with the ISS. (c) NASA.tv

After a great deal of excitement following a glitch in the Dragon Capsule’s thrusters, the SpaceX vessel docked with the International Space Station as commander Kevin Ford wielded the lab’s robot arm and secured the spacecraft for berthing.

A day late, the Dragon made a near-perfect rendezvous with the ISS 253 miles above northern Ukraine, much to the delight of the six astronauts and cosmonauts onboard.

“Let me just say congratulations to the SpaceX and Dragon team in Houston and in California,” Ford replied. “As they say, it’s not where you start but where you finish that counts, and you guys really finished this one on the mark. You’re aboard, and we’ve got a lot of science to bring aboard and get done.”

The unmanned vehicle brought 178 pounds of crew provisions, including food and clothing; 300 pounds of space station hardware and more than 700 pounds of science gear destined for important experiments onboard the ISS. Most of the science gear is set to return back with the same Dragon capsule to Earth.

This is the third visit SpaceX has made to the ISS, part of its ongoing $1.6 billion commercial contract with NASA. Currently, SpaceX is the only option NASA has of ferrying cargo to and fro the ISS, after the agency retired its shuttle fleet.

(c) NASA

SpaceX launches third flight to the ISS, Dragon capsule suffers engine glitch

(c) NASA

(c) NASA

Just a few hours ago, SpaceX launched its third flight to the International Space Station tasked with carrying precious cargo as part of its current contract with NASA. Shortly after the 10:10 AM EST launch of the Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, however, the Dragon Capsule experienced a glitch shortly after parting with its rocket.

The liftoff was smooth as a whistle, but once in orbit a problem surfaced just after spacecraft separation, when the Dragon capsule was expected to deploy its solar arrays. These solar arrays are essential to powering the capsule, however there are still more than 15 hours left, as of typing, of battery life – hopefully enough for SpaceX engineers to remedy to issue .

UPDATE: SpaceX waited until the Dragon Capsule hovered over Australia where communications between ground stations and orbiting spacecraft is best. Engineers overrided an inhibit instruction that was preventing two of the three thruster pods from working properly. Dragon’s 54-foot-wide solar arrays have been thus deployed successfully averting any kind of danger to the mission. Some re-arrangements will be required, however, as a result of the delay.

The Dragon capsule is carrying around 1,200 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station, including important scientific experiments that will be deployed on the station and then ferried back on Earth. Some crew care items have also been deployed, like fresh apples much to the delight of the stationed astronauts.

As an interesting side note, during yesterday’s pre-launch conference SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell offered the first insights as to why the Falcon 9 engine shut down during a launch in October. Apparently, a  “material flaw in the jacket of the engine” was the root of the problem, though the subject wasn’t elaborated in detail.

Elon Musk SpaceX

SpaceX founder envisions 80,000 people colony on Mars

Elon Musk SpaceXA real life Peter-Weyland, SpaceX founder and self-made billionaire, Elon Musk, has stirred up controversy with his space exploration claims on a number of occasions, mostly because they’re considered rather “too ambitious”. A few months ago Musk suggested that in a mere few decades, his company will be offering $500,000 there and back trips to Mars. Recently, he unveiled a new side to his grander plan, after the entrepreneur announced that the eventual goal for SpaceX is that of settling a Martian colony with 80,000 people.

SpaceX reached some formidable milestones this past year alone, after it became the first private company to touch decks with the International Space Station when the un-manned Dragon capsule safely docked. Their progress is formidable, considering they’ve only been operational for a decade, still SpaceX has yet to make a manned flight and it is already making formidable claims for the future. Some would be quick to label these claims as follies, yet what brilliant milestone didn’t stand by the thread of madness? It’s  about pushing the limits, and Musk, who regularly logs in 100-tireless work hours a week, doesn’t like to set the bar low. At one of his recent talks at the  Royal Aeronautical Society, Musk said:

“At Mars, you can start a self-sustaining civilization and grow it into something really big,” referring to a Martian colony.

According to Musk, at first a very small, but very well supplied, crew would touch base with Mars and begin raising an outpost. The team would install a transparent, pressurized dome with Martian CO2 where Earth crops in Martian soil could be grown. As the outpost grows, fewer supplies would be needed to be ferried away from Earth, meaning more people could be brought to Mars. Don’t ask me where he got this figures, but Musk claims that by the time Earth’s population reaches eight billion, perhaps one in 100,000 would be prepared to go to Mars – that’s 80,000 immigrants. An estimate cost for such a venture is valued by Musk at $36 billion, which he envisions as a partnership between private space assets and governmental space agencies. He arrived at that number by estimating that a colony that costs 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be considered acceptable.

“Some money has to be spent on establishing a base on Mars. It’s about getting the basic fundamentals in place,” Musk said. “That was true of the English colonies [in the Americas]; it took a significant expense to get things started. But once there are regular Mars flights, you can get the cost down to half a million dollars for someone to move to Mars. Then I think there are enough people who would buy that to have it be a reasonable business case.”

The analogy isn’t that sound too me, however. We’ve yet to see the kind of technology that could safely, cheaply and surely take man to Mars, although recent observations of Curiosity that flagged the red planet as being radiation-safe for humans are very encouraging. Apparently, a reusable version of SpaceX falcon 9 rocket will be used, although matters are kept somewhat to SpaceX officials.

So what’s your take on Elon Musk’s ambitious goals?

SpaceX spacecraft lands safely on Earth, with creepy cargo

SpaceX has gone where no private company has gone before – and safely returned. They are now officially the only company able of space flight, after successfully delivering cargo to the International Space Station and now, returning, with some rather dubious cargo.

 

Of the total 907 kilograms of experiments and gear it holds, the shuttle carries liters of blood and urine, obtained in hundreds of samples, all from astronauts – and these are the most important, NASA scientists explain. The 384 syringes of urine and 112 tubes of blood packed aboard Dragon will tell nutritionists what important developments happen inside astronauts body during their stay onboard the ISS, and how the negative effects associated with long term space flight (such as bone loss).

“While it may seem very strange to some folks, my typical line is that, ‘It may be urine to you, but it’s gold for us,'” NASA nutritionist Scott Smith of the Johnson Space Center said before the Dragon mission. “There’s a lot of science that comes out of this.”

Some of these samples have actually been aboard the ISS since 2011, so there’s a lot of excitement about the return. This achievement by SpaceX is even more impressive considering that not are they unique compared to other companies – they are also unique compared to governments as well. The US shut down its orbital space flight program, and other countries don’t have a great alternative either, so the Dragon mission is pretty much the only option when it comes to shipping things in and out of the ISS.

“The novelty at this point with SpaceX is that this is the first real return vehicle for these types of samples,” Smith said. “We can get the crew home onboard the Soyuz, but the cargo capacity on Soyuz is quite limited.”

The only other viable alternatives are designed for one way trips: Russia, Japan and Europe have designed shuttles which intentionally burn out when they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, but that’s not really the kind of efficient, sustainable solution you want, so SpaceX offers quite a good alternative.

The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk – the same man who launched electric carmaker Tesla Motor.

SpaceX reaches International Space Station safely with precious cargo

Following what seemed to be a serious problem with one of the engines from the Falcon 9 rocket, the unmanned but highly equipped Dragon capsule successfully latched itself to the International Space Station (ISS). The capsule was capture by astronauts using a robotic arm after what seemed to be a flawless approach – which is really good news, considering that this is only the first in a series of 12 planned missions, which will cost NASA about $1.6 billion.

 

“Looks like we’ve tamed the Dragon,” station commander Sunita Williams said as the spacecraft was captured by a robotic arm. “We’re happy she’s onboard with us. Thanks to everyone at SpaceX and NASA for bringing her to us … and the ice cream.”

In the almost 500 kg cargo, astronauts also got a rare, last-minute delight: chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream. The ISS crew was of course really thrilled to see the ship (not only because of the ice cream).

“It’s nice to see Dragon flying over the U.S.,” Williams said during the space rendezvous.

Source: NASA

SpaceX begins first cargo mission to International Space Station

We’re entering a new era in terms of low orbit space flight, ladies and gents. SpaceX successfully launched the first in a dozen planned missions to supply the International Space Station, after it successfully tested its Dragon capsule and Falcon rocket earlier this year.

Thirty years ago, a private company launching shuttles to the ISS would have been a comic book subject and nothing more. But SpaceX, the company owned by the brilliantly ambitious Elon Musk, managed to do just that, managing to begin its first true operation after the test in May. This is becomes even more important when put into perspective: the US shut down its space shuttle program so it now has to rely on private enterprises to carry cargo to and from the inhabited satellite.

“We are right where we need to be at this stage in the mission,” SpaceX chief Elon Musk, the PayPal and Tesla Motors founder, said in a statement. “We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon’s approach to the space station. But the launch was an unqualified success.”

After some initial hassle in the first test, SpaceX seems to be doing just great. Dragon will attach itself to the ISS on Wednesday, where it will hang around for two weeks before unzipping and returning to Earth. It is currently the only shuttle on Earth capable of shipping such big amounts of supplies, which include station hardware and scientific materials. It is estimated that the cargo is worth about $1.6 billion, and hopefully, the shuttle will be able to carry humans in the near future.

SpaceX Dragon crew in evaluation test. (c) SpaceX

Boeing and SpaceX split $1 billion NASA founds – commercial spaceflight on demand

Both Boeing and SpaceX are set to split as much as $1 billion in federal awards destined to spur development of next-generation manned spacecraft. This follows other funding ventures awarded in the past few years to private space companies, in NASA‘s attempt to delimit itself from suborbital ventures, so that it may concentrate on deep space ventures.

SpaceX Dragon crew in evaluation test. (c) SpaceX

SpaceX Dragon crew in evaluation test. (c) SpaceX

The total amount available is likely to be between $800 and $1 billion through the middle of 2014. Sierra Nevada Corp., a manufacturer of satellite components and other aerospace hardware, is set to be awarded a third place funding award, albeit in a smaller amount. Following President Obama’s decision to retire the space shuttle last year, NASA has been left to rely on renting flight from Russia in its Soyuz spacecrafts for missions to the International Space Station. By helping develop private space ventures, the administration hopes to relieve itself from this dependency, and in fact open up the whole market.

Just three months ago, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule successfully docked, unmanned, with the International Space Station and completed its mission with a flawless re-entry, landing in the Pacific. Within a few years, the system will allegedly be fully integrated in the International Space Station docking circuit.

In other news, a new study commissioned by the U.S. and Florida governments forecasts that private suborbital spaceflights, which reach 63 miles above Earth’s surface and dive back through the atmosphere, would bring between $600 million and $1.6 billion in revenue in their first decade of operations.  Nearly 80 percent of the demand for commercial suborbital flights will be driven by tourism, according to the report, while the rest for research. [source]

SpaceX on a roll – lands first customer for Falcon Heavy rocket

The most successful private space flight venture, SpaceX, continues its successful streak which began with the successful launch and docking of its Dragon capsule with the International Space Station, after the company announced recently it has sealed its first contract for its slated Falcon Heavy rocket, which is expected carry about twice as much payload into orbit as currently available rockets.

The deal was signed with Intelsat, the world’s leading provider of satellite services worldwide – the first of many clients expected to be signed for the Falcon Heavy solution.

“Our support of successful new entrants to the commercial launch industry reduces risk in our business model,” Intelsat chief technical officer Thierry Guillemin said in a statement. “We will work closely with SpaceX as the Falcon Heavy completes rigorous flight tests prior to our future launch requirements,” he said.

Not only is the rocket capable of carrying more payload into space than any of its competitors, at  $1,000 per pound launched, about one-tenth the cost per pound on NASA shuttle launches, it’s also the cheapest. A typical launch is expected to cost $100 million, while the Air Force pays more than four times that amount for Delta 4 Heavy flights, which is the biggest U.S. expendable rocket and can only carry half the payload of the Falcon.

The successful docking of the Dragon capsule with the ISS has offered SpaceX a lot of credit and faith from behalf of NASA, the two having signed a 12-flight deal, worth $1.6 billion contract in which the private space company will ferry cargo to the station. The company also holds more than two dozen other contracts for Falcon 9 flights. Yes, SpaceX proves that space flight is not only innovative and cutting-edge technology-wise, but can also be profitable, and there are more company ready to follow in its footsteps.

 

 

Dragon Capsule on course for ISS arrival

As promised, we’ll be keeping you posted with what the Dragon capsule is doing, on its remarkable way to the International Space Station (ISS). The private capsule, owned by SpaceX, was launched from the Falcon rocket and is now right on track to deliver a half-ton of supplies and become the first commercial vessel to visit the space station.

“It’s a great view,” Dutch space station astronaut Andre Kuipers said as the Dragon drew to within 900 feet, its strobe light flashing. “The solar panels are nicely lit.”

Landing this mission is crucial not only because it would mark the beginning of a new chapter in space flight, but also because a collision at orbital speeds would prove to be catastrophic for the ISS.

President Barack Obama is pushing commercial ventures in orbit so NASA can focus on bigger missions, but many doubt this decision, especially considering the dire times NASA is going through. Although the capsule is currently unmanned, Elon Musk, SpaceX maestro, billionaire, and chief architect believes he can have people flying up and down the ISS in three or four years.

Until now, since the retiring of the old American shuttles, the ISS has been relying on the Russians, Japanese and Europeans to carry cargo in and out of orbit, but now, SpaceX seems to provide a much better option, especially since unlike the older shuttles, Dragon is designed to safely parachute into the ocean

The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Tuesday. This launch marks the first time, a private company sends its own rocket to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.(AP Photo/John Raoux) Photo: Ap/getty / SL

SpaceX finally launches for the ISS. Sparks new age for private spaceflight

The Private Company SpaceX launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and a unmanned Dragan capsule turns night into day during liftoff from a Cape Canaveral launch pad early Tuesday as it streaks over a model of NASA's space shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center, heading for a rendezvous with the International Space Station, opening a new era of dollar-driven spaceflight. (AP Photo/Florida Today, Craig Rubadoux)  Photo: Ap/getty / SL

The Private Company SpaceX launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and a unmanned Dragan capsule turns night into day during liftoff from a Cape Canaveral launch pad early Tuesday as it streaks over a model of NASA's space shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center, heading for a rendezvous with the International Space Station, opening a new era of dollar-driven spaceflight. (AP Photo/Florida Today, Craig Rubadoux) Photo: Ap/getty / SL

Last Saturday, after many meticulous preparatory stages and a couple of exasperating postponements, SpaceX was set to launch  its Falcon 9 rocket, along with its Dragon capsule filled with food, supplies and science experiments destined for the International Space Station. A faulty valve, however, signaled officials to abort the launch with just ONE second to go.

Years and years of research and preparation might have ended in a disaster, however it seems all these past precautions were for the best. Today, the Falcon 9 launched without a breeze from the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeted, “Dragon spaceship opens the navigation pod bay door without hesitation. So much nicer than HAL9000 #DragonLaunch.”

It marks the third launch of the Falcon 9 rocket; the second launch of the Dragon capsule, the first with components needed for space station docking; and one of 12 planned SpaceX flights to the International Space Station. Definitely today signals the beginning of a new era of spaceflight, one in which private companies are herald to dominate the sub-orbital space launch scene.

The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Tuesday. This launch marks the first time, a private company sends its own rocket to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.(AP Photo/John Raoux) Photo: Ap/getty / SL

The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from space launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Tuesday. This launch marks the first time, a private company sends its own rocket to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.(AP Photo/John Raoux) Photo: Ap/getty / SL

The SpaceX launch solutions are the most affordable cost/performance when compared with its current competitors. The reusable Dragon is also significantly cheaper than European, Russian or Chinese spacecrafts. The cargo version of the Dragon is very different from the manned version expected to begin launching humans to orbit in a few years.

Besides SpaceX, expect other companies to join sub-orbit launches carrying important cargo, and even astronauts, in the near future. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, ATK (Alliant Techsystems Inc.) which plans to use its Liberty rocket to launch humans into orbit by 2015 or Planetary Resources’ daring plan of traveling to an asteroid and mining it.

Soon, free of sub-orbital launch duties, NASA will finally be able to concentrate on high-load carrying propulsion solutions which might finally bring man back on the moon and, hopefully, on Mars.