After a glitch of a Falcon-9 booster engine aborted the flight on Friday, the SpaceX launch this morning sends the unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. Carrying about 1,200 pounds of supplies, the Dragon will rendezvous with the ISS on Friday. The lift-off at 3:44am EDT from Cape Canaveral, Florida marks the start of a three-week mission, which will end with the Dragon capsule splashing down off the coast of California next month. The spacecraft is designed to carry up to 7,300 pounds of material into Earth orbit, and could start carrying human passengers as early as 2014.
SpaceX, the private, commercial space program begun by Elon Musk, has taking a huge lead today in the new game of commercial space enterprises. Richard Branson is another looking to cash-in with his Virgin Galactic space tourism venture. While other companies are also working on both orbital and sub-orbital spacecraft, the most ambitious entry is a new company called Planetary Resources, founded by billionaires like filmmaker James Cameron and Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Forget about just going for Earth orbit, they are looking to begin asteroid mining by 2020!
The stakes are high in this new game for space entrepreneurs. There is literally over $100 TRILLION dollars worth of commercially recoverable material just counting those 2,000 or so asteroids known as Near-Earth-Objects. Minerals like gold, silver, tin, copper, platinum and cobalt offer much potential. Recent discoveries indicate that many asteroids may an abundance of ice water, which can be processed into water and oxygen for sustaining humans in space as well as for producing rocket fuel. Add to this the potential of materials such as Helium-3, an isotope that seems ideal for fusion reactors, the economics become even more viable.
There is no doubt that the future of human civilization depends on our eventual migration from Earth into space. One can compare this new era of space travel to that of the post World War I aviation development. Early barn stormers would take passengers up for a quick joy-ride to give folks a taste of flight. Small airlines began primarily to win mail contracts from the Post Office. SpaceX, for example, has a similar contract with NASA for transporting supplies to the ISS. So the next step is for an economically viable launch system that will usher in regular human passenger service, opening the door to not just space tourism, but actual colonization. Perhaps the most intriguing potential of this would be when settlements are established for political reasons, much like the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom. Will a colony of adventurous Libertarians living on the Moon or an asteroid be very far off?
Today′s SpaceX launch of the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station was a success. Unlike Friday′s aborted launch due to an engine glitch, the Falcon-9 rocket lifted off the launchpad from Cape Canaveral, Florida this morning at 3:44am EDT. The unmanned spacecraft will deliver some 1,200 pounds of supplies to the ISS on Friday and return to Earth about 3 weeks from today.