SpaceX Dragon triumph: Only the beginning
A mini-space shuttle called Dream Chaser, seen in this illustration, is expected to begin atmospheric testing this year.
May 25th, 2012
06:15 AM ET

SpaceX Dragon triumph: Only the beginning

SpaceX made history Friday as the first private company to successfully reach an orbiting space station - but its competitors aren't far behind.

Blue Origin, the commercial space outfit founded by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, has been wind-tunnel testing its Space Vehicle capsule, which is designed to carry up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station, much like SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

Another company, Sierra Nevada, is preparing to dangle a test version of its shuttle-like Dream Chaser from helicopters later this year to find out how well it slips through the air. The sleek spacecraft - which could lift off as soon as 2016 or 2017 - is designed to launch atop a powerful Atlas V rocket and then use its wings to fly back to Earth for a runway landing.

And a fourth private firm called Orbital Sciences Corp. is planning its first launch later in the year.

Related: A new era begins? 

SpaceX's achievement crosses an important threshold in America's shift toward a commercially led space industry. The door is opening to cheaper, more efficient and easier access to orbit, say experts, at a time when American astronauts must hitch rides aboard Russian spacecraft.

Related: SpaceX mission includes 'Trek' actor's ashes 

Blue Origin tested its capsule last month in Dallas, confirming its ability to descend correctly through the atmosphere and to change its flight path, according to a Blue Origin statement.

A Blue Origin illustration of its capsule during wind tunnel tests.

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket system is designed for vertical takeoff and landing. The spacecraft's liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen rocket engine systems have been undergoing testing at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the company said.

It's been in business for only 12 years, and the company is already creating museum pieces - in this case an unmanned test vehicle called Charon.

Workers in Seattle moved the 9,500-pound machine into the Museum of Flight on Tuesday. Charon and its four powerful vertically set jet engines helped New Shepard engineers learn more about reusable booster rockets that blast off and land vertically.

"We've all seen cartoons of rockets landing vertically, and it really hasn't happened yet," museum President Douglas King said. "Figuring out how to do that in a way that's controllable and replicable is what this is all about."

Workers moved Charon into the museum Tuesday.

Flying Charon by remote control "felt like trying to balance something on top of  a ball," King was told. "That's what Blue Origin is trying to learn to do: to fly a rocket booster back to the pad and then land it gently."

Sitting in the museum's Space Gallery, about 20 feet to the right of Charon, is a Russian Soyuz rocket capsule that flew to the space station in 2009.

"You think about this little tiny capsule as being all that returned from a big three-part spacecraft, and you get an idea how expensive spaceflight is and how we need to make access to space reasonable for a lot more people," King said. "You've got to make it reliable and affordable to do that."

Related: Stellar week for SpaceX founder

The Dragon mission is beginning to demonstrate the exciting moment in history we're living in, he said.

"Things that used to only be accessible to a few carefully selected highly qualified right-stuff government employees are finally coming within reach of researchers, businesspeople and explorers," King said. "SpaceX deserves a lot of credit. That's an incredible achievement out there today - done only by governments before - and a lot of other people are going to follow."

Post by:
Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space • News
soundoff (293 Responses)
  1. gshf2012

    Meetup Message from: mark ellenbogen, Member of Drinks and Doom (a post apocalyptic book club)
    God Shuffled His Feet-A Novel by Mark Ellenbogen-Great Apocalyptic fun!

    Hey all I am here to pump a fun new read called God Shuffled His Feet-a Novel. Never taken too seriously, a humorous Science fact and Fiction novel with a twisted turn on the Apocalypse. If selected to read by your group, I would like to offer to the group one free paperback for any three ordered either as e-book or paperback. Available on Amazon, B and N, or Goodreads.

    Synopsis

    Tesla-Space X-and Elon Musk to save mankind!! Fun and fast paced new science fiction novel
    A must read–God Shuffled His Feet—A Novel by Mark Ellenbogen
    Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads.
    Exciting fun novel with a humorous apocalyptic twist. Elon Musk-Tesla and Space X help save mankind from total destruction! Meet astronomers Ravi Najir and Sam Klein, two PHD doctoral students from Humboldt, California, about to have their world turned upside down--literally. The duo wins a $250,000 grant and a coveted year long viewing slot using the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the heavens. Little do they know that what they are about discover, will rock the Earth, their lives, and the heavens all at once!
    High in the far reaches of space, up where the Crab Nebula is supposed to be, a new solar system has formed and Klein and Najir are about to discover it. Within minutes of accessing their chosen Hubble coordinates, two new celestial bodies are discovered where none existed before!!
    Dubbing their discovery the Master Kush Formation; the two unlikely heroes are quickly rocketed to fame and glory over night. A new sun and a fully habitable blue-green planet have taken the place of the Crab Nebula. God plans to wipe the Earth clean and start over!!!
    The clock is ticking and time is running out. Only a few will make it. The boys enlist the help of Elon Musk, Tesla and Space X to manage the technology and transport the saved. Do you have what it takes? Open up God Shuffled His Feet for the ride of your life!! Peppered with interesting trivia, thoughtful humor and some suspenseful science fiction God Shuffled His Feet will entertain while provoking some thought in the process.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  2. gshf2012

    Elon, Tesla and Space X Save the World!
    Read the new novel by Mark Ellenbogen-God Shuffled His Feet!! Elon Musk, Tesla and Space X take an active role in saving the world. Humorous, well researched and a tribute to Musk's forward thinking and innovation. Have fun reading as the main characters test drive a Tesla Roadster and Space X develops a MagLev drive for land, see and space travel.

    August 26, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  3. T

    Like that photo of a mini-shuttle called the Dream Chaser. It looks very cool. Hopes it becomes a reality.
    It reminds me of the shuttlepod from the short lived Star Trek: ENTERPRISE tv series.

    May 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  4. remember telstar50

    July 1962, first commercial satellite: Telstar, built by Bell Labs (then AT&T), launched by NASA.
    And first live TV between the USA and Europe: JFK news conference. Exactly 50 years ago.
    It will be celebrated at the National Air & Space Museum this July, 12. Stay tuned!

    May 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
  5. Bill

    Disappointing that this blog post talks up the silly Jeff Bezos Blue Origin team working on single-stage to orbit, vertical take-off rockets without mentioning that 1) the Blue Origin stuff has repeatedly blown up or crashed and 2) the Government repeatedly succeeded in demonstrating vertical take-off, single-stage rocket technology with the DC-X and Clipper vehicles....canceled by Sean O'Keefe, the accountant who Bush installed as NASA Director for a while.

    May 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Lee S

      Name one rocket system that worked with 100 percent effiency during testing. A lot of the failures are probably still classified. Figuring out what makes rockets fail is probably one of the biggest secrets to have in the industry. It costs millions to figure out what you did wrong. Imagine how much time a company could save if they were privy to that info.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • kh

      I don't see where it's "talked up". In fact it sounds like they've been working for 12 years and haven't really done anything yet.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  6. svann

    When do they expect to turn a profit?

    May 27, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Blayze Kohime

      Very soon, probably; the wealthy will pay big bucks to go up into orbit in a spaceship. Not to mention it will be cheaper for the US government to pay one of these companies than to develop and build their own crafts, freeing up their money for satelites and robots.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
      • Dude

        You got that right. Despite the requirement of passing some cosmonaut training and learning basic Russian, there is a line of people waiting to pay $20 million for a ride to the space station for a few days. Also, you are expected to work while you are up there.

        Put up a small private facility, possibly like the inflatable system NASA developed, and offer a one week stay in 0 Gs for $50 million. The ship can carry seven people. With a crew of 2 that 5 passengers, which adds up to a quarter billion per launch. Plus $25 per bag, $7 landing fee . . .

        June 8, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Kosmoscanyon

      I already did the math, Nasa pays Space x 1.6 billion for 12 launches or 133 million per launch. Space x claims it will cost from 80-125 million per launch so we average those two together for 102.5 million. 133 minus 102.5 equals 30.5 profit. Where that money goes afterwards I don't know, but I'm sure investors will get at least 10% "3.05 million" their money back per launch. So really I think 27.45 million will be closer to Space x's profits.

      October 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  7. mary

    This is rich spoiled kids being rich spoiled kids. There is nothing practical or useful that will come out of this.

    May 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Bob

      Quite the contrary. There is "nothing practical or useful" in your comment. I seriously doubt that there is anything practical or useful in your existence.

      May 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
      • Professor

        Thanks Bob! I am always amazed these idiots use their keyboard and computer that were developed in part to calculate orbital trajectiories to complain about the space program.

        I hear a lot about greed and the "rich" on these blogs. Greed, hatred, and envy are by far the greater sins. Though shalt not COVET. The rich do not take food from you, they don't force you at gunpoint to pay money. The rich are NOT rich because you are poor. YOU are not POOR because there are RICH people. This perspective is pure Marxist propoganda and it is absolutely, demonstrably false.

        Elon Musk has done the world a great, great service. I am sure when Walt Disney was building up central Florida the Marxists whined and cried about that- oh the rich are making a playground, only the rich will go to Disneyworld. Give me a break. He may not quite be a god but I will say this: Elon willing my son will pilot an orbital ship someday.

        May 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
      • flashtrum

        Professor hit the nail on the head.

        May 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Blayze Kohime

      Except all the US taxpayer money that will not be spent by NASA building their own spacecraft; instead they will pay a much lower expense renting space on commercial spacecraft. This could save billions of dollars in the long run, money that would have otherwise came out of the pockets of citizens like you and me.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
      • Jorge

        One of the most foresighted comments I've read. You got it spot on.

        May 31, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Pepinium

      Mary, it is always reassuring there are people like you out there with the vision of a department store clerk, :), after all, we all need someone to make our fries for us at McDonald's. Fortunately, people with your "mental capacity" (He, he), put yourselves in your place and, generally, are not able to influence events or have any significant impact on society. Don't bother your pretty little head with subjects like this ( I am sure it hurts when you think). Now, just go bad to Twitter and Facebook and watching America's Funniest Videos. Someday, if you are lucky you will be the first in your family to graduate from Middle School, :))).

      May 27, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Val

      Even if that were so, it put many people to work and thereby has contributed to stimulating the economy and increases our GDP.

      September 29, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  8. My Take

    thank goodness for SpaceX. NASA got way out of control with their spending. I'm glad the private sector showed the government how to launch a space program without spending a trillion dollars.

    May 27, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Bill

      You don't really know what you're talking about, I'm sorry to say.

      The idea that this (or any other space endeavor) is really solely "commercial" is a fallacy.  First of all, NASA gave SpaceX a contract for nearly $400 Million to develop the Dragon capsule. They didn't do it without significant Government investment. Secondly, SpaceX was able to draw upon THOUSANDS of U.S. Government studies, experiments, and tests dating back to the Apollo program which made it SIGNIFICANTLY easier for SpaceX to develop the Dragon spacecraft. These include NASA's development of capsule shapes and heat shield technologies, reentry mathematics and methods, orbital dynamics and rendezvous procedures, rocket engines and staging techniques, and tons of other widgets, reports, studies, and results that SpaceX didn't have to do themselves thanks to decades of work by Government engineers and scientists.  Finally, a large fraction of the SpaceX workforce *IS* former NASA employees and NASA contractors who learned how to do this stuff the hard way and came to SpaceX only because the Government has prevented NASA from doing the things the Government used to let it do (you can thank Lori Garver for that one, by the way). My point is that, to a very large extent, this is not just SpaceX doing this...it's the long blue line of space professionals in NASA going back decades who gave them the technology and, in many cases, the very people they hired to do this.

      May 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
      • My Take

        everyone already knows what you have said above; NASA would have turned this into a 50 billion dollar project if they were running it. I can list at least 10 failed project that NASA kept pouring billions into just to keep their employees working. Let me k ow if you want me to list them, I would be glad to.

        May 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
      • Professor

        NASA is not even a government program for space travel any more. NASA is a jobs program with contractors spread strategically through congressional districts in order to buy votes for funding. NASA has spent $9 Billion designing a rocket with 30 year old off the shelf hardware. Nothing ever flew.

        Space X has spent less than $1 Billion- only 1/3 of that from NASA so far- and has 2 brand new 21st Century working rockets, something like 5 successful space missions, a docking with ISS, and a crew capsule they have already recovered that is just about ready to launch humans and is already MUCH safer than the shuttle ever thought of being. By next year SpaceX will fly a heavy lift class rocket with a larger payload than the space shuttle. An estimate that NASA would have spent $50 Billion developing all this capability is extremely generous. My guess is they would have designed the rockets, redesigned them, filtered them out to contractors all across the country, spent $50 Billion, and THEN lobbied congress for more because STILL NOTHING WOULD HAVE FLOWN.

        May 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
      • sgray

        "The idea that this (or any other space endeavor) is really solely "commercial" is a fallacy. First of all, NASA gave SpaceX a contract for nearly $400 Million to develop the Dragon capsule."

        Only AFTER Elon musk developed: the first liquid engine development in the US since the SSME (70s)
        The Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Draco thruster, etc....
        The "capsule" was built before the NASA $$ came along. saw it personally in the high bay BEFORE the COTS contract.

        " They didn't do it without significant Government investment. Secondly, SpaceX was able to draw upon THOUSANDS of U.S. Government studies, experiments, and tests dating back to the Apollo program which made it SIGNIFICANTLY easier for SpaceX to develop the Dragon spacecraft."

        No, SpaceX did almost ALL of their development in house with very little NASA help (at first). Including Li-Al friction stir welding. (IN house)

        "These include NASA's development of capsule shapes and heat shield technologies, reentry mathematics and methods, orbital dynamics and rendezvous procedures, rocket engines and staging techniques, and tons of other widgets, reports, studies, and results that SpaceX didn't have to do themselves thanks to decades of work by Government engineers and scientists."

        Sorry again, anything published by NASA has to be ITAR "export" agreed to in advance. There is very little "high tech" that NASA has worked on in the recent past that is available to the general public. NASA does not reveal "re-entry" shapes without an export license & technology transfer agreement.

        AND all that NASA "developed" was done by German Engineers that we snuck out of Germany at the end of WWII. So NASA did not even do this development themselves either.

        " Finally, a large fraction of the SpaceX workforce *IS* former NASA employees and NASA contractors who learned how to do this stuff the hard way and came to SpaceX only because the Government has prevented NASA from doing the things the Government used to let it do"

        Wrong again! Did you see the video of the launch success at the SpaceX facility cafeteria (again, I have stood right in the middle of)??
        EVERY SINGLE person you see cheering is too young to have even been alive during Apollo or EVEN shuttle initial launch. Almost 100% of those engineers are green, and had never seen a rocket launch in their lives until THEY DID IT.

        Try again.

        May 27, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
      • Don Jones

        Sgray, NASA "development" owes its biggest debt to Robert H. Goddard as do the Germans. Goddard, a Norman born in America, was the genius who Von Braun and the Germans copied.

        May 28, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • Blayze Kohime

      NASA appears to be quite adept at designing exploration robots and drones for other nearby planets, but terrible at designing short-range craft for our own atmosphere. It makes no sense to me.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Pepinium

      Don't fool yourself My Take, private industry only gets involved in R

      Don't fool yourself My Take, private industry only gets involved in R&D after the government has done most of the dirty work and demonstrated that an idea has high probability of being profitable. That is what happened with Nuclear Power, the Internet, and now the space program. Remember, the accountants who normally run corporations have to show a quick return on investment for the stockholders. Everyone knows that fusion power represents a potentially inexhaustible source of energy but the only research going on in this field over the last 50 years all over the world is happening in government sponsored labs and universities for this same reason. I know that the "private industry should always take the lead" idea is very much in vogue among the "keep government small" crowd but I hope there is still enough objectivity in your mind to do a little research on this points I have made. You will conclude I am right. Accountants have NO VISION !!! Complex research and development projects may go for decades before they can show that a profit is possible. These two concepts don't play well together !!!

      May 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  9. Spock here

    Not to mention in a year or two we won't be paying the Russians to do what we will be able to do ourselves. We've got our pride back now. Onward and upward!

    May 27, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  10. dmadam

    How come no mention of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic program in New Mexico>

    May 27, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Bob

      Because the article is about orbital vehicles. Scaled/Virgin's vehicles are suborbital and therefore not the subject of this article.

      May 27, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  11. John

    Congratulations and Thank You, SpaceX!

    Job well done. I hope you have a Moon Base plan in the works. There is so much that can be done, found, and learned by establishing an Outpost on the Moon, no matter what one's ultimate space exploration goals may be! If you all would like to explore the Moon, please publisize it. We would love to donate to such an effort!

    John and Peggy

    May 27, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • FactChecker

      Manned missions are just for showing off, not for science or discovery. There have already been robots sent to Mars that worked there for over 6 years! The Mars rovers cost about the same amount as this SpaceX mission, so it was very cheap. And there was no danger of loss of life.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
      • Wastrel

        I respectfully disagree. Having a thinking creature at the scene is esstial to scientific advancement. Moreover, it is inecitable that we will colonize the moon.

        May 27, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  12. IdahoTom

    Just sad to see poor basement kids that has no life just always complaining about a company (what they call corporate evil empire driven by greed) doing something that is absolutely mind bogglingly complicated (both in management and technical aspect) and not having any understanding in how difficult it is to do something with space exploration and especially the launching aspect of it. You first of all, for starters, need lots of money. Hence concluding that people with lots of money trying to do something that not a lot of people can do = it must be driven by greed and nothing else is just frustrating and highly offensive to these pioneers.

    It might be the intent of lightyears to gather all engineers around the country to help educate these poor souls that has no grasp of reality in how difficult it is to build things, how to get the funding to do so (this part can be ugly, but has to be done) and how to manage a project of this scope through this commentary board. But gosh, I guess it's well known, but you have to all be very very patient with these basement kids. They probably haven't seen daylight in a while because they've been working on their corporate conspiracy theory.

    Good job SpaceX, your work is very inspiring. And if it's for money, totally do it for money. I mean, why would you want to spend BILLIONS of dollars on something to just get started up unless it is for the money. This gap in the aspect of reality between technological development with respect to space exploration and what people calls passion has to be narrowed pretty soon.

    May 27, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  13. Bill

    Way to go Space X! I bet Space X or a similar company makes it to Mars before NASA does. Probably back to the moon before China does too.

    May 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Ken

      SpaceX can rot for all I care. They stole the contract though shaddy means. Others with more experience and lower bids were trumped by criminal means. Ask spaceX how they got their originial startup cash..... They ripped off folks by promising space "funerals" they knew they could not deliver on.

      May 26, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
      • JD

        I applaud you. Many others do not so boldly speak their mind when they don't know what they are talking about.

        May 27, 2012 at 9:47 am |
      • Bob

        You mean like the ashes that they launched in this dragon capsule? Sounds like they're delivering.

        May 27, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Ken

      Also ask their underpaid overworked techs..... I bet they would have some fun stories for you.

      May 26, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
      • JD

        Ken, I'd like you to meet Facts. Facts, this is Ken. I understand you two have never met.

        May 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Bill

      The idea that this (or any other space endeavor) is really solely "commercial" is a fallacy.  First of all, NASA gave SpaceX a contract for nearly $300 Million to develop the Dragon capsule. They didn't do it without significant Government investment. Secondly, SpaceX was able to draw upon THOUSANDS of U.S. Government studies, experiments, and tests dating back to the Apollo program which made it SIGNIFICANTLY easier for SpaceX to develop the Dragon spacecraft. These include NASA's development of capsule shapes and heat shield technologies, reentry mathematics and methods, orbital dynamics and rendezvous procedures, rocket engines and staging techniques, and tons of other widgets, reports, studies, and results that SpaceX didn't have to do themselves thanks to decades of work by Government engineers and scientists.  Finally, a large fraction of the SpaceX workforce *IS* former NASA employees and NASA contractors who learned how to do this stuff the hard way and came to SpaceX only because the Government has prevented NASA from doing the things the Government used to let it do (you can thank Lori Garver for that one, by the way). My point is that, to a very large extent, this is not just SpaceX doing this...it's the long blue line of space professionals in NASA going back decades who gave them the technology and, in many cases, the very people they hired to do this.

      May 27, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
      • Australopithecus Africanus

        Now Bill – why didnt you draw on the information of NASA that was in the public space . . . . ?

        May 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
1 2

Contributors

  • Elizabeth Landau
    Writer/Producer
  • Sophia Dengo
    Senior Designer