A private company has today launched a space capsule into orbit. In a move that NASA hope could lead to the first commercial space station supply run. It is hoped supply runs could start as early as next year - and eventually the capsules would be manned.
The Falcon 9 rocket, owned by Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) blasted into orbit today (Wednesday) with the Dragon capsule on board. It successfully reached its 190-mile-high orbit (300km). The unmanned Dragon space capsule has room for seven crew and an abundant cargo hold that could supply the International Space Station, after NASA retires its space shuttle fleet next year.
The company's intention is for Dragon to circle the globe twice then re-enter from low orbit before parachuting into the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles (800km) off the Mexican coast. NASA said its payload contains, "a few thousand patches, employee badges for the SpaceX company and some other mementos", reports aljazeera.net.
NASA expects to use SpaceX as a kind of taxi service to carry supplies to the International Space Station after it has retired its shuttle service in 2011. This test flight was originally planned for Tuesday but cracks in the upper nozzle meant repairs would have to be carried out first. SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft. In December next year, they intend to begin station deliveries and could be launching station crews within three years, once NASA has given the all-clear.
NASA is relying on Russia to transport US astronauts presently but this arrangement is proving very costly at $26m per person this year, rising to $51m in 2011, and $56m by 2013.
NASA has two shuttle missions remaining, in February and April 2011.