Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Commercial launch, recovery a success

The first attempt by a commercial company to launch a space capsule into orbit and bring it back is being praised as a milestone in the future of space travel. SpaceX's unmanned Dragon spacecraft left Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday atop a Falcon 9 rocket and entered orbit 10 minutes later. It circled Earth twice before splash-down in the Pacific. The next step is a fly-by of the International Space Station, then a cargo and crew mission to the ISS, both in 2011. NASA signed a contract with SpaceX in December 2008 under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program to provide 12 spacecraft to resupply the ISS through 2016. NASA also signed a contract with Orbital Space Corp. for eight launches of its Taurus II rocket starting in 2011. Wednesday's flight was important for the Obama administration's hopes to expand commercial space efforts as a way to free up NASA funds for missions to send astronauts much deeper into space and ultimately to Mars. (Sources: AFP via Space Travel, Washington Post, 12/08/10) Gulf Coast note: Stennis Space Center, Miss., is testing the AJ26 propulsion systems for the Orbital Space Corp. program.