SpaceX, the private space flight company, is making great strides in the new frontier of space travel. The company currently has over 40 flights on its manifest including both commercial satellite launches as well as missions consigned by NASA to resupply the International Space Station.
Founded in 2002, SpaceX currently has three space vehicles and is the only private company to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which was first accomplished in 2010. SpaceX’s main workhorse is the Dragon cargo ship. Currently the Dragon is designed to carry supplies into space and return cargo safely to Earth, but SpaceX is currently designing alterations to the space vehicle to allow a crew to fly the Dragon. The first manned test flight is expected to be in the next two to three years.
Since the United States retired its entire fleet of space shuttles, they relied heavily on Russian Roscosmos to commute its astronauts into space. Because of the recent strain on the relationship between the US and Russia, however, the United States has abandoned most aspects of its partnership with the Russian Federal Space Agency.
The severed relationship means better business for private companies like SpaceX. In 2012, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vehicle made its first trip to ISS – a feat only before accomplished by governmental space programs. The resupply trip proved the capabilities of SpaceX and in turn led to a contract awarded by NASA for $1.6 billion in return for at least 12 resupply missions to the space station.
Executives at SpaceX say their ambition for the new frontier is “to revolutionize space technology… with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets,” according to their website. One of their current projects being developed is a reusable rocket that would drastically reduce the cost of launches, and which engineers at the SpaceX development facility in McGregor, Texas — just east of Waco — are working on right now.
Also currently in development is the Falcon Heavy project which is based off of SpaceX’s extremely reliable Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket ever produced, generating the thrust capacity of 15 Boeing 747 jetliners at full throttle. The Falcon Heavy rocket will be able to deliver a higher payload into orbit than any other before its time.
With headquarters in Hawthorne, CA and launch facilities in both California and Florida, SpaceX is rapidly expanding its territory currently employing over 3.000 people.
The next mission on SpaceX’s docket is scheduled for April 14, when they will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a directive to transport 5,000 pounds of experiment samples and tools to ISS including new arms and legs for the space station’s Robonaut, a humanoid robotic crew member. The mission is designated SpaceX-3, it will be the company’s third trip to space.
NASA will provide prelaunch coverage at Kennedy Space Center, on Cape Canaveral, on April 13 at 1pm EST. Assuming weather or other unforeseen events to not delay the launch, NASA TV will show live coverage of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship docking with the International Space Station, which should begin at 5:45am EST, marking a new frontier in the business of space travel.
Opinion by Cody Long