On Tuesday, a private company is expected ship out a special delivery of supplies to a unique customer.
On the surface (literally), that doesn’t sound remarkable. Businesses, after all, have been doing this sort of thing for hundreds of years, from wagons crossing wide ranges of land to ships delivering goods made in one nation to another to trainloads of goods crossing continents to the fleets of trucks that criss-cross America and the rest of the world every day.
If you want something and a business has it, it will find a way to get it to you.
What is special about this very unusual delivery, however, is the location of the customer. The delivery will have to travel to a point about 250 miles away, which isn’t a big deal until you consider the direction.
Rather then east, west, north or south, it’s 250 miles up.
The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 delivery rocket, which was to have launched before dawn Saturday from Cape Canaveral, is set to take a capsule loaded with 1,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. After the craft’s computer detected unusually high pressure in one of the engines, the launch was scrubbed until Tuesday.
The recently decommissioned Space Shuttle fleet had been performing this task, but if everything goes right, Space exploration technologies Corp., a private company, could join the few nations that are flying to the low orbital lab. That’s pretty select company, especially when you consider the fact that the United States isn’t one of them anymore.
Officials say once the capsule reaches the space station, which orbits the Earth in a near circle that keeps it between 205 to 255 miles above our planet, controllers will do some practicing with the Dragon capsule containing the payload. After that, the capsule should get the OK from NASA on to dock with the ISS.
And if the flight is successful, two weeks later the Dragon will parachute down on the West Coast in two weeks later with returning equipment and experiments from the station.
If everything works as planned and a reliable service can be created (SpaceX has not yet hit its initial launch window for any of its flights), the benefits will be two-fold for America.
First, we will no longer be dependent on foreign nations for rides to the ISS. Astronauts will be able to fly up in a rocket from America’s private sector.
Second, it will free NASA to focus on deep space exploration.
I would have been preferable for a more seamless transition from public to private transport to low orbit, but if companies like SpaceX can learn quickly and then reliably fill the need, it’ll be a benefit to both the public and private sectors of our country.