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
    +2

    Comment number 210.

    I would rather money be spent on space exploration which might eventually help the human race. It's far better than wasting it on weapons to fight wars that 99% of people don't want. I hope every goes well with this mission.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 209.

    "There is no internationally recognized title for a a country or confederation called the "United States of Europe"."

    True. But tell that to such megalomaniacs like Giscard d'Estaing or
    Jose Manuel Barroso. Who know better.

    162.The Realist
    As far as commercialisation, Europe very far ahead. We have companies building rockets for commercial customers.

    Japan launches others' sats. And?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 208.

    36.david c

    Problems of people dying of starvation / thirst are generally caused by corrupt governments stealing money meant for their people and using it to line their own pockets. Millions of $ in international aid has been sent to these countries for years with little improvement seen.
    You're attacking the wrong target - cutting back on space exploration won't help them.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 207.

    I am considering the legal framework that should regulate the uni/multi modal transportation of goods in outer space. The use of outer space for commercial purposes will bring legal consequences. The law which exists at present under which contracts for the transportation of goods is complex but does not deal with outer space. This will need regulation on an international basis.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 206.

    Did he say 225 m/s? THAT IS FAST!

    I still believe the European strategy for launching satellites will be superior. There is no point going commercial unless they find more efficient ways of doing it, and currently it is no more efficient...

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 205.

    Magic... and it's captured my students' imaginations. I walked into class an hour ago and one said "I've been watching history being made!"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 204.

    AllenT2 :

    I'm sure you and the BBC enjoy the idea of America breaking apart.




    Especially from EZ, after the latest NATO meeting in Chicago.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 203.

    181.Kent
    This comment has been referred for further consideration.

    Ho. Ho. Ho.

    Kent (all postings) has been removed for being a freakish waste of carbon. No need to exlpain; it's obvious.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 202.

    199. I_AM_THE_CHOSEN_ONE

    LOL. Who the hell is Diana Black? Her quote does not apply to me anyway.

    ===
    I don't know either... but I don't think she has a big ego because no one knows who she is...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 201.

    @188.Cranial Vacancy
    I don't deny that & I know, satellite design was my job for 4 years (no need for the capitals). Bepi-Columbo is hopefully going to be fantastic and very technically difficult especially due to the temperature extreemes around Mercury.

    I guess it was your tone of voice that irked me and I feel that technically Venus isn't deep space, I would class that as Jupiter or further.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 200.

    Great work - something to cheer about - it's seems that it isn't the entire population of the world that thinks it's all finished. Showing that man is still capable of something other than self destruction. Top notch.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 199.

    #197 RayElfman

    LOL. Who the hell is Diana Black? Her quote does not apply to me anyway.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 198.

    And_here_we_go_again (194)
    "@188, I'd hardly call Venus "deep space" but it still was a great mission."

    Getting to the inner planets is difficult. Effectively you're falling from Earth towards the sun, so by the time you get to Venus (or Mercury), you have a lot of relative velocity which makes the rendezvous difficult.

    Going outwards is easier - the rendezvous happens at LOW speed.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 197.

    Re:#190 Mojothechimp - Yes I have a big ego but its justified, trust me.

    ==

    To quote Diana Black: "Big egos are big shields for lots of empty space."

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 196.

    So no condemnation from North Korea or Iran?!! Isn't this a cover-up for US aggressive missions?! After all they have attacked other countries far more than nay other country after WW2!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 195.

    very good job well done US

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 194.

    @188, I'd hardly call Venus "deep space" but it still was a great mission.

    Why does it metter who is more advanced? In technical terms, Kent is right, the three largest global space companies in order are Boeing (US), Lockhead Martin (US), EADS (Europe).

    We should celebrate this achievement, after all Russia was ahead at the start of the Space Race and just look how that turned out! :)

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 193.

    187 byofrcs - That $1,600,000,000 is also less than the US spends every 48 hours in Afghanistan & Iraq.
    I think I'd rather the money was going towards firing rockets into space, rather than firing rockets at people.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 192.

    #184 Max - Of course they can! Who knows what lurks in the universe?

    #189 Chris - Yes I am serious.

    #190 Mojothechimp - Yes I have a big ego but its justified, trust me.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 191.

    Glad this finally got into orbit, especially given the special cargo (which you haven't mentioned here). Boldly Go, Mr Doohan and Col. Cooper!

 

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