If all goes as planned this Friday, Mar 1, 2013 at 10:10 a.m. EST (15:10 GMT) Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will launch a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). A “static fire test” was executed successfully on Monday, Feb 25, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. EST (18:30 GMT). According to SpaceX all nine engines fired successfully for two seconds. SpaceX engineers will analyze data and continue preparation for the scheduled launch later this week.
This marks the fourth time (once during a test flight) that a private company has launched an object to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and (fingers-crossed) return it to Earth for recovery. It is important for SpaceX to successfully complete all mission objectives after the partial success of CRS-1 last October. CRS-1 successfully recovered from a Merlin 1C engine failure about 79 seconds into the flight (see the video below).
The success of SpaceX is crucial for continued development of the nascent private space industry being incubated by NASA. CRS-2 is the second of twelve planned launches for SpaceX which started in October 2012 costing us approximately $1.6 billion. The development of SpaceX up to that point has been funded by the fortune of Elon Musk, private investors, and $278 million from NASA in “seed money” under the COTS program to develop the Falcon 9 rocket, among other things. This may seem expensive to some of you out there but keep in mind that the average cost of single Space Shuttle mission was $450 million. So far development costs and twelve missions to the ISS cost the taxpayer less than $2 billion over 3 years. This includes profit margin for SpaceX to reinvest into further development. Twelve shuttle missions would have cost the taxpayer at least $5.4 billion in 2011 dollars with nothing much to reinvest. That seems like a deal to this taxpayer.
The most exciting thing though is not ferrying stuff back and forth to the ISS. It is the private space infrastructure being funded by NASA and built by SpaceX thus enabling them to offer launch services affordably to smaller companies and start-ups. This lowers the barriers to entry to the space industry by lowering the cost per pound to orbit and beyond. In fact, the business plans of the asteroid mining start-ups I mentioned in a previous post are dependent on the success of SpaceX. With this in mind I have high hopes for SpaceX and wish them the best of luck on Friday. No matter what happens we’ll likely be talking about it Friday After Work.
** UPDATE 2/27/2013 **
NASA reports the weather forecast is 90% favorable and is still a “GO” for Friday.
Video of the Merlin 1C engine failure from last October.