BEIJING, May 17 (Xinhuanet) -- SpaceX, owned by the billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is soon to become the first private company to build a spacecraft in order to dock with the International Space Station.
If all goes as planned, this should happen later this month. From now on, it appears the space race is a private enterprise endeavour, rather than a competition between nations. David Keyton has more.
A new space race begins.
Since the US Space Shuttle program ended in July 2011, NASA has relied on Russia to deliver Americans to the International Space Station (ISS). But it comes at a cost of more than 50 million dollars a seat.
The incentive to find a less costly mode of transportation has been a boon for private industry, and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is leading the way so far.
On May 19th, the Falcon 9 rocket will launch from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Once in space, the rocket will release into orbit the Dragon Capsule, a reusable spacecraft that will then be bound for the space station. If all goes to plan, a few days after that, it will dock with the space station in a procedure known as "berthing", and will deliver supplies to astronauts aboard.
Elon Musk says, "What makes this really important is if we are able to dock with the space station, it will be the first time that a privately designed spaceship has been able to dock with anything. And that will, I think, really herald the dawn of a new era of space exploration."
Elon Musk, an internet entrepreneur who founded SpaceX in 2002, sees the future of space exploration in the hands of entrepreneurs like himself.
"Yeah, I think in order for us to make great progress in space exploration, we have to have a much larger role for the private sector. That's not to the exclusion of government, I think there’s still an important role for government, but that has to be paired with an even larger role for private industry."
Musk has signed a multi-year contract with NASA, which will eventually use the Dragon Capsule to transport astronauts to the space station. That should come within the next 2 to 5 years.
The US Space Shuttle program, which began in 1981, ended with the final voyage of the Atlantis in July 2011. It had a costly and problematic run. Two tragic incidents killed a total of 14 astronauts.... and the cost was astronomical ... as high as almost 1 billion dollars per flight.
To usher in a new era, Musk has set out to reduce the cost of space travel to a fraction of that. Operating the Falcon 9 and the Dragon costs roughly 120 to 130 million dollars per flight... and his spacecraft is reusable.
In such conditions, it's not surprising industry experts are thrilled to see private investors reach for the stars.