Nasa chief hails new era in space

 

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The head of Nasa has hailed a "new era" in exploration after the launch of the first cargo delivery to the space station by a private company.

The Falcon rocket, topped by an unmanned Dragon freight capsule, lifted clear of its Florida pad at 03:44 EDT (07:44 GMT; 08:44 BST).

The launch system has been built by California-based firm SpaceX.

The initial climb to an altitude some 340km above the Earth lasted a little under 10 minutes.

Within moments of being ejected, Dragon opened its solar panels.

It also unpacked its navigation equipment.

Nasa's administrator Charles Bolden said: "Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration... The significance of this day cannot be overstated; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time.

"And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start."

It will take a couple of days to reach the station. The plan currently is for the vessel to demonstrate its guidance, control and communications systems on Thursday, at a distance of 2.5km from the International Space Station (ISS).

Dragon Spacecraft annotated

If those practice proximity manoeuvres go well, Dragon will be allowed to drive to within 10m of the station on Friday. Astronauts inside the platform will then grab the ship with a robotic arm and berth it to the 400km-high structure.

They will empty Dragon of its 500kg of food, water and equipment, before releasing it for a return to Earth at the end of the month.

For Elon Musk, the CEO and chief designer at SpaceX, Tuesday's lift-off was a special moment.

"Every bit of adrenalin in my body released at that point," he told reporters. "There's so much hope riding on that rocket, so when it worked, and Dragon worked and the solar arrays deployed, [company employees] saw their handiwork in space and operating as it should - it was tremendous elation. It's like winning the Superbowl."

The mission has major significance because it marks a big change in the way the US wants to conduct its space operations.

Nasa is attempting to offload routine human spaceflight operations in low-Earth orbit to commercial industry in a way similar to how some large organisations contract out their IT or payroll.

The carriage of freight will be the first service to be bought in from external suppliers; the transport of astronauts to and from the station will be the second, later this decade.

The US space agency hopes these changes will save it money that can then be invested in exploration missions far beyond Earth, at destinations such as asteroids and Mars.

SpaceX mission control SpaceX mission control celebrates a successful ascent to orbit for Falcon and Dragon

SpaceX has many new systems it has to demonstrate in the coming days, and has tried to lower expectations ahead of the mission, repeating often that its aim is to learn things it did not previously know.

Nasa has set the California company a series of development milestones. Only when those have been met fully will a $1.6bn ISS re-supply contract kick in.

The agency is also looking to engage a second cargo partner. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia is slightly behind SpaceX in its development schedule, although it started work on its Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule system later. Orbital expects to fly a first mission to the vicinity of the ISS later this year or early in 2013.

"We're really at the dawn of a new era in space exploration, and one where there's a much bigger role for commercial space companies," Mr Musk said.

"I think perhaps there's some parallels to the internet in the mid-90s where the internet was created as a government endeavour but then the introduction of commercial companies really accelerated the growth of the internet."

SpaceX launch behind a shuttle model Out with the old: Since the retirement of the shuttles last year, the US has relied on other ISS partners for cargo and crew transport

Tuesday's Falcon launch was also notable for the small and rather unusual payload that piggy-backed the ride to orbit.

This was a container holding the cremated remains of more than 300 space enthusiasts, among them the late Star Trek actor James "Scotty" Doohan.

The ashes had been placed in the Falcon's discarded second stage.

They will continue to circle the planet for about a year before falling back to Earth and vaporizing.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter

 

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  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 50.

    We just need to think where we want to be in, say 200 years.
    In my view, we want to be using the resources of the solar system (planets and ateroids) to supplement our ever increasing demand from the Earths limited resources.
    The is a small, but significant step in this direction. With private companies getting involved there will be a much accellerated demand.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    34.
    ftw
    ___

    Like tax breaks for the richest in society? Forcing people onto "work experience" programmes on JSA for their corporate sponsors etc? Of course they do, self interest is everywhere, what's your point?

    I hope this progression to space continues, we need to keep advancing, i'm just not convinced monetary profit should be the best acknowledged reward.

  • rate this
    -14

    Comment number 48.

    This is excellent news.
    The future of space exploration will depend on commercial companies. It will only be successful if it is run like any other business.
    I, however, still think that the ISS was and is a waste of money - we already had a perfectly good space station waiting to be utilised. It's called the moon!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 47.

    Freddy Laker and Howard Hughes would be very interested if they were still about

    A new flying industry for the masses

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    26.krokodil
    21 Minutes ago
    Are you watching North Korea???

    See, its easy.




    Just privatize Kims' GULAG.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 45.

    @CorporateSlave:
    "400km?" Yes. The ISS orbits between 391 and 406km above the Earth.

    What a *fantastic* day for the human race. One more step -- and not a small one -- toward getting our eggs out of just the one basket... Corporate rather than government-based spaceflight is a vital link in the chain toward colonies (dozens if not hundreds of years from now).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 44.

    Daimler built the world's first taxi in 1897. On 16 June, 1897 the Daimler taxi was delivered to a Stuttgart entrepreneur who started the world's first motorized taxi company. The first demonstration of air freight occurred in 1910 when a department store shipped a bolt of silk by air from Dayton to Columbus.The shipment beat the railroad express between the two cities. From small beginnings...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 43.

    @37. ichabod
    The NHS is a very bad example for a monopoly as it is public and only affects the UK, not the whole of this planet. Also, it is not a monopoly since you can get medical treatment in private clinics.
    Diamonds are a monopoly. See how expensive they are? It's because all diamonds mined are bought by a single company, stored and only sold when there is high enough demand for them.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 42.

    Exciting stuff. BTW AllenT the BBC probably uses California or whatever state to be more geographically precise in its reporting. It would have been a shock if the company had been from Alabama, for example.

    A big space station BBC chaps: "..a robotic arm and berth it to the 400km-high structure". 400 km high. Wow, since when did we start building death stars?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 41.

    rob wrote:

    "billions saved can be now spent where it is more needed - like employment and getting people off the streets because they have no hope and have lost everything due to fat cat bankers etc"

    Right, because the "people" are totally incapable of living beyond their means. That's the main reason Western countries have economic issues.

    If you are not American then It isn't your business.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 40.

    I'm all for any attempt to get people into space technology but that rocket seemed to take an awfully long time to get off the ground and the flame from the exhaust looked dreadfully old technology. Russian vehicles exhausts seem so 'clean' in comparison.

  • rate this
    +26

    Comment number 39.

    ~36 davidc

    following your logic we would never have progressed from cavemen.
    No exploration, no investment in new discoveries, just kill a few animals for food until there are none left....what twaddle!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 38.

    32.
    GeoSquared
    ___

    I forget which astronaut it was that said just as the engines fired for take off, he suddenly realised he was at the top of a bomb filled with the most volatile fuels known to man that had been built by the lowest bidder.

    If NASA had no need for this SpaceX wouldn't be able to do it, so it's a publicly funded private venture. I do hope SpaceX have the right mindset at the top.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    Re high rated 22
    "we might even see a monopoly developing where a single company could hold the technology or rights to space travel"
    What's wrong with that - we have a monopoly in health care in the UK - ots called the NHS and everyone loves it.

  • rate this
    -35

    Comment number 36.

    so how much money was spent sending the provisions to the space station. Does nobody in government think about the thousands of people dying of starvation and thirst. Save the people on earth before going further afield,

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 35.

    This is a very significant step and paves the way for much more commercial private involvement in space.
    On saying that,, I agree very much with #21 Thymeisagainstus, when he criticises the topics available to HYS.
    I have recently also joined another discussion group with another media newspaper for that reason.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    @29 So governments never have or will do anything motivated out of greed or national self interest?

  • rate this
    -25

    Comment number 33.

    Maybe some of the billions saved can be now spent where it is more needed - like employment and getting people off the streets because they have no hope and have lost everything due to fat cat bankers etc

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 32.

    @17. muttlee
    How do you expect them to cut these costs? By cutting corners on health and safety or by advertisement placement?
    If investors are willing to put such money in these 'investments', surelly they want profit in return.
    Where is this profit going to come from?

    @29. Rodders
    I also expect that SpaceX didn't develop the tech itself. It was passed by NASA. At what price I wonder...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 31.

    Well done guys. Way to go!

    (bet you were jelly when those engines fired up)

 

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