(The Guardian) In a major step towards space privatization, SpaceX will send a Dragon capsule with supplies for the International Space Station
In the early hours of Saturday morning, a rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a mission to deliver a capsule full of supplies to the International Space Station.
Such launches are unremarkable when government agencies are at the helm, but this flight is different. The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule is in the hands of SpaceX, the first commercial company to attempt a rendezvous with the orbiting outpost.
This will be a momentous step towards the privatisation of space. Even a partially successful mission will strengthen Nasa’s plans to hand industry responsibility for sending cargo and ultimately crewed flights to low Earth orbit, allowing the agency to focus on other missions.
The launch, planned for 9.55am BST, is very much a test flight for SpaceX, the company founded by PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk, and the chances of something going wrong, from the rocket misfiring to the capsule being lost in space, are real.
The Falcon 9 rocket has flown only twice before, successfully reaching orbit on both occasions. An earlier SpaceX rocket, Falcon-1, failed to reach orbit on its first three test flights, though the company has had no failures since.
“We have to allow for the fact that this is an extremely complex and tough flight. It’s a test flight, not a standard milk run,” said Alan Stern, a US aerospace consultant and former associate administrator in charge of science at Nasa. “Elon Musk and SpaceX have a tremendous track record, and when Falcon 1 failed, they stuck with it and made it work. They will have a failure again, because everyone does, but a test flight is a learning experience. Regardless of how successful the flight is, whether it’s complete or partial, it’s a big step forward. This is a sea change.”