To paraphrase our Vice President, the SpaceX launch of the world’s first commercial space vehicle (unmanned, but will be able to return cargo from the International Space Station) is a big f-ing deal. Their Falcon 9 launch vehicle performed as expected to get them into orbit, and so far the Dragon cargo (and later crew) capsule is working well on orbit. In the next several days, they’ll be running many tests to see if things hold up well enough so that Dragon can safely deliver its 1,000 pound load of food and supplies to the ISS, and return home experiment samples (and trash). You can download a very detailed press kit for this mission from SpaceX as a PDF:
This is officially a demo launch; it’s only the third time Falcon 9 has flown, and only the second time the Dragon capsule has flown. Now that the space shuttle is retired, Dragon is the only spacecraft in the world capable of returning significant cargo from the space station. A major part of this flight will be to test if that promised capability is actually real. But if these unmanned flights go well, Space X hopes to compete with the Russians to transport crew to and from ISS. And without forcing astronauts to learn Russian, either.
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