Never before has something like this felt like the definitive future of space flight. However, with NASA's shuttles about to be grounded forever and the agency left without a manned delivery vehicle as per Obama's orders, it's going to be up to companies such as SpaceX to shoulder the logistics of America's efforts in space. And that's exactly what SpaceX aims to do.
You may have heard of the man behind SpaceX before: South African-born Elon Musk co-founded both PayPal and Tesla Motors, and now he's set his sights on space. NASA awarded SpaceX a contract back in 2008 for over $1 billion to use the company's Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned, robotic Dragon cargo capsule to resupply the ISS. Back in '08, though, NASA's now-canceled rocket program still seemed like it would happen.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket isn't quite ready for prime time. The company has successfully launched its Falcon 1 rockets, though those are smaller and really only good for carrying small satellites. The Falcon 9 is needed to take the Dragon up and, even though it'll just be carrying supplies, SpaceX designed it to carry people, too, and would very much like to ferry astronauts up into space.
So why does this feel like such a done deal? NASA recently installed and tested its — get ready for it — Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (or COTS) Ultra High Frequency (or UHF) Communication Unit (or COTSUHFCU...?). Atlantis took the unit into space last November, astronauts installed and tested it in January, and this month a second round of testing saw the agency declare that the device was ready.
The success of this series of tests speaks to our close collaboration with NASA as well as the SpaceX process that allowed the rapid development of this new hardware," SpaceX ops chief Marco Villa told The Register. "Everything went smoothly, and we eagerly anticipate the upcoming Dragon visits to the ISS."
When NASA's shuttle fleet is officially retired, companies such as SpaceX will be the agency's lifeline to space, as well as partnerships NASA has, such as with the Russians to use their Soyuz spaceships to resupply the ISS. It's a different way to go about it, but hopefully what we're looking at is the beginning of an exciting new age for future space exploration.
Via The Register