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With the unveiling of the Dragon V2 spaceship, SpaceX is another step closer to shoot for the moon and beyond. The new spaceship from Tesla electric car manufacturer, Elon Musk, is a low-earth orbit craft designed to ferry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is competing against the Boeing Company, Blue Origin, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation to create space taxi’s to replace the now retired NASA Space Shuttle fleet.
The new spacecraft introduced by Musk is a follow-up to the successful Dragon unmanned cargo craft already in use. The craft looks like it could be the offspring of a coupling between the Space Shuttle and one of the Apollo space capsules. The craft can carry seven astronauts to the ISS at an estimated cost of $140 million. This is a large savings over the $450 million it cost to launch the Space Shuttles. Musk feels the price to fly astronauts to the space station could go even lower with multiple missions each year for the space administration. With the low price of tickets for NASA and having the Dragon V2 cleared for flight tests recently, this puts SpaceX at a clear advantage over the competition.
The company has been able to keep the price of launching astronauts into space so low by doing most of the work in-house. NASA outsourced much of the Space Shuttle program and by keeping the build of Dragon V2 at SpaceX, cost is kept more appealing. With flight tests cleared, the first unmanned launch of the new craft could take place as soon as the end of 2015 with the first manned orbital test in 2016. This time frame would fall right in line with NASA’s desire to start using privatized space flight to go back and forth to the ISS starting in 2017.
SpaceX does not want to stop with just going to the ISS. A planned mission in October of 2015 will shoot one of the companies Falcon 9 rocket systems to the moon. The moon mission will be the first private trip to the Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. The Falcon 9 rocket will carry a capsule containing a powdered sports drink from Japanese company Otsuka to the lunar surface. While it seems silly to many for Otsuka to place a can of the companies Pocari Sweat Powder somewhere on the moon, the company is using it as an advertising gimmick. The idea behind the plan is to entice children to work hard in school and become an astronaut so they can travel to the moon and collect the drink. This is a throwback to NASA selecting the powdered drink Tang for the astronauts during the Gemini missions. Tang saw increased sales and kids dreamed of being astronauts while drinking the powdered beverage on Earth.
While sending a Japanese advertisement to the moon seems silly, it will be the first chance for SpaceX to send one of the Falcon 9 rockets that far. A successful moon launch and trip would open the doors for Musk to establish the first private foothold on Earth’s satellite, opening the door or possibilities to reach out further into the solar system. Musk has dreams of seeing a Dragon V2 spacecraft landing on the surface of Mars.
SpaceX may look to shoot even further than the red planet. Musk hinted at the Dragon V2 unveiling at the SpaceX headquarters that a fully loaded set-up could reach the moon and Mars and has the potential to venture into deep space. The company is in the process of a launch vehicle more powerful than their Falcon rocket. The project is being developed under the acronym BFR, which may be short for Big Falcon Rocket and could propel SpaceX deeper into the solar system. NASA is expected to select the company to replace the Space Shuttle fleet in the next few months and it appears Musk and SpaceX are primed and ready to boldly go where no private company has gone before.
By Carl Auer