Today we continue our look at the Commercial Space Industry and what Orbital Sciences Corporation has to offer.
Orbital Sciences Corporation
Orbital is not a new comer to the Space Launch business having been started in 1982 and completed 62 space launch missions since. They currently offer the air launched Pegasus rocket, the ground launched Taurus and Minotaur, all of which are Solid Fuel rockets.
They are in the process of creating the Taurus II rocket which will be a combination of Solid and Liquid fueled stages and Cygnus space capsule as part of the NASA COTS program.
Orbital are due to conduct their first test launch of Taurus II early next year and barring any problems Cygnus be middle of 2012.
I have no doubt that they will be successful with the Taurus II and look forward to the benefits having multiple providers will offer NASA and commercial industry in the future.
This morning during the press conference for the Soyuz docking Bill Gerstenmaier NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations confirmed that SpaceX had provided them with the final Dragon Spacecraft software which will be used for orbital operations. NASA are now reviewing the software and Bill estimated that they should be able to set an actual launch date for the next demo mission in about a month.
The reason the test has been delayed several times is because NASA, the Russian Space Agency, SpaceX and the other partners need to be 100% sure that Dragon will not pose any problems to the Space Station when it approaches. As with any project these things can take time and it is better to delay the test and be sure everything is working as needed than rush it and end up causing bigger problems.
NASA made sure that they wouldn’t need to rush the Commercial Resupply Services (CSR) by taking up over a years worth of supplies on the last shuttle launch.
Yesterday I mentioned the SpaceX Falcon Heavy as my preferred launch vehicle for the Mars Rover mission. I have been watching with increased interested the development of the commercial launch business as companies like SpaceX, Orbital and others progress towards supplying the Space Station and offering launch capabilities to the broader industry.
At the moment SpaceX have made the most progress with a new rocket but they have only had a few launches so how can we say that?
If you look at what they have achieved since they started in 2002 then it is hard not to be impressed. They started off with the Falcon 1 which has lunched 5 times so far and while the first three mission ended in failure the last two where successful and put SpaceX on the map with the first privately funded liquid fueled rocket to reach orbit.
Since then the main focus has been on the creation of the Falcon 9 vehicle and the Dragon Space Capsule, again SpaceX has delivered so far, of the two Falcon 9 launches attempted so far both have been successful. On the second SpaceX achieved another first by launching their Dragon space capsule and successfully returning to earth becoming the first commercial company to do it.
Early next year SpaceX will once again launch Dragon this time on a mission to the Space Station, this is the second test missions as part of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transport Services (COTS) program. Once they have demonstrated the ability to successfully launch Dragon to the space station and dock they will then begin contracted deliveries to the Space Station.
Recently SpaceX have made two other announcements regarding the future of the Falcon Rockets. First they announced the creation of the Falcon Heavy which will have the largest payload capacity of any rocket currently in use today. Second they announced plans to start testing return to launch site abilities for the first and second stages of the rocket which if they can achieve it successfully will drastically reduce the cost of launching to space.
All in all I believe SpaceX has a great future and their success will only benefit the America Space industry and start to lower the costs of getting into space for everyone.
Tomorrow we continue with Orbital and take a look at their offering in the Commercial Space Arena.