SpaceX’s New Launch: Commercial Space Flight is That Much Closer!

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Commercial space flight took a pretty big step forward Thursday.  SpaceX successfully launched and landed all three of the booster rockets for it’s “Falcon Heavy” rocket system.  The company develops rocket systems and is advancing the ultimate goal of commercial human space flight.  SpaceX designed the Falcon Heavy to deliver an advanced and heavy communications satellite.  Aerospace giant and major defense contractor Lockheed Martin built the satellite for a Saudi Arabian corporation.  

The Most Powerful Rocket System in the World

The Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket currently being used by any entity – commercial or government.  It’s making the space-related (and investment) headlines a lot lately, The communications satellite it is being built to deliver is, according to Lockheed VP Lisa Callahan, “the most advanced commercial communications satellite we’ve ever built.”

Superlatives aside, The launch and landing of those booster rockets really is something to behold, so do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to watch.  It’s inspiring.

SpaceX and Commercial Space Flight

According to its website, “SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”  That’s their mission.  They’re very well-funded, and orders for the Falcon 9 rockets continue to come in.  

In fact, SpaceX also made the news earlier this week concerning the Starhopper prototype – its orbital people-carrying vessel.  In those tests, the company successfully completed tethered hops with a miniaturized version of the astoundingly big ship.  How big?  9.7 million pounds, with a 200,000-pound payload capacity, and nearly 350 feet tall. We’re well beyond cubits, folks.

Remotes are one thing.  The living?

SpaceX Dragon Capsule in orbit

SpaceX Dragon Capsule

Yeah, I just paraphrased His Holiness, Han Solo I – come at me.  The principle holds, though.  SpaceX does a lot of great things with commercial satellite and other missions not involving human space flight, but just last month, they reached another huge milestone.  The Dragon space capsule became the first commercial vehicle to automatically dock with the ISS and return to earth.  The test wasn’t without its glitches, but the Dragon capsule did successfully return to earth.  SpaceX designed the capsule in partnership with NASA in order to restore manned space flight to the United States.  In case you’re wondering, we haven’t done that since the space shuttle program was closed in 2011.  

When SpaceX announced it’s Dragon program, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the mission originally contained plans for a launch of a crewed mission this month.  That won’t happen, with the success of the unmanned test last month, plans are moving forward for the manned version, called Demo-2, soon.

What About Other Private Companies?

Boeing CST-100 Starliner

Boeing CST-100 Starliner

NASA is also working closely with Boeing on returning manned space flight to the United States.  Their program, impassionately named “Orbital Flight Test” is scheduled for August of this year.  It will be the first unmanned test for Boeing’s program and will be similar in nature to last month’s unmanned test by SpaceX.

Boeing at least did a somewhat better job at naming their craft than they did at naming their missions.  The ship is called the CST-100 Starliner.  I don’t know about you, space fans, but I get goosebumps just hearing words like Starliner and Starhopper.

The Reality of Space for Everyone…

Okay, so not everyone is gonna get to go to space.  There are just certain physical requirements that are not going away any time soon, and the cost is still extremely prohibitive for space travel the way our sci-fi riddled brains are used to imagining it.  We’re a long way from the scene in the first episode of Firefly when Kaylee and Shepherd Book first meet and she entices him aboard Serenity as a passenger.  But are we really?

Painting of a spaceport.

Photo Credit: Kai Stachowiak

The Wright brothers “invented” human flight in 1903, and in less than half a century we were able to cross the Atlantic in a matter of hours, not days, weeks, or months.  It took two world wars and a military-industrial complex to create that progress.  Poignantly, however we are now entering an age in which countries are testing systems to blow up satellites and weaponize space.  I’m only speculating, of course, but it’s not inconceivable that by the mid 21st century many of us could share first-hand accounts of a round earth to all of our “quirky” relatives in the tinfoil hats.  That’s pretty damned exciting to me.

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