Falcon 9 has performed flawlessly - after two weeks of checks and one last-second abort SpaceX’s two-stage rocket successfully launched from its Florida pad and lofted its 'Dragon' cargo into orbit. Dragon subsequently extended its solar panels and proceeded about the business of being a spacecraft.
From orbit, Dragon has headed to the International Space station (ISS) performing a flyby before finally pulling alongside. Astronauts in the ISS took hold of the gleaming Dragon in the station's robotic arm and brought it to dock at 2:02am ADST - as both station and cargo spacecraft soared 400km above Australia.
The success of the Falcon 9/Dragon (the third flight and third success) to an extent marks humanity's true re-entering of the space race. This time we are as much fighting the laws of physics as each-oher, to make space access truly within the grasp of the human hand. Recovering the capsule post reentry (scheduled for this Thursday-Friday) is the final stage of NASA acceptance - leading to a full contract for resupplying the ISS and a manned version (named Dragonrider) after ~3 years of test flights - at a pricetage to per kg way below that of the Space Shuttle.
These quick success and their low pricetags for space launching are thus far are in stark contrast to the complexity of Dragon's arguably white elephant destination. While bringing scientific benefits to humanity, these benefits have never come close to adding up to the ISS' $US150 billion pricetag. Atomic is fully behind human space exploration: it's inspirational and frankly what better use of humanity's technology is there, than to carry us to where we could otherwise only gaze at? However five people orbiting endlessly 400km above than the surface of the earth is simply not exploration.
"Like the smell of a brand-new car" - Don Pettit (right) and Oleg Kononenko (left) inside Dragon after docking.
For the monumental effort we have expended on the ISS' construction the international community could have mapped every planet in the solar system in detail, or by SpaceX's estimates landed dozens of people on Mars. As such this docking was a meeting between the forwards, efficient direction of space exporation and its less efficient past.
This future is thus inestimably brighter than the recent past - this launch is humankind getting back on track in space exploration. As we have reported previously SpaceX is finalising the sucessor to this design that has succeeeded so well over the last week. 'Falcon 9 Heavy' is a vehicle that would halve the lowest current price per Kilogram to orbit, be capable of sending a manned Dragon capsule around the Moon or launching an unmanned one (Red Dragon) to land on Mars. Competitor OSC is set to launch their own unmanned capsule, Cygnus, from its Antares rocket before this year is out. Given eaches record so far it is for the first time in our memory rational to expect this progress to happen. The ball is thoroughly rolling.
SpaceX and its competitors are quite literally forging the tools to take us as far out as we can imagine. We're sorry but someone has to say it, and Atomic is perhaps ideally well placed do so: finally humans are boldly going where no one has gone before.
And Godspeed to us.