Dragon, a privately funded reusable orbiter, has achieved orbit on the apparently flawless first flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
It is only four years since PayPal co-founder, Elon Musk, put $US 100 million of his money into SpaceX, the company which wants to take over American manned and unmanned supply and crew flights to the International Space Station after the last of the Space Shuttles is retired later this year.
There is as yet no comprehensive video of the launch available on-line, although outstanding vignettes of the climb into space from a camera on the orbit stage of the Falcon 9 were streamed. SpaceX itself and Space.com are the sites most likely to post those videos soonest, followed by rapid posting on YouTube.
Musk believes he can lower the cost of low earth orbit payloads to $US 500 a kilogram in the medium term, compared to around $20,000 per kilogram now using vehicles like the full sized Dragon mock-up now in orbit.
Having made so much progress with a SpaceX work force of only 900 rocket scientists and support technicians in four years, this claim needs to taken seriously.
The Dragon is designed to be adapted to manned flights as well as automated cargo missions.
The Falcon 9 launcher was preceded by the first SpaceX launcher, the Falcon 1, which succeeded in reaching orbit in two flights out of five. This was the first privately developed earth launched vehicle to reach orbit, which the design achieved on its fourth attempt (below).
This YouTube, of the 2008 launch from Omelek Island, in the Kwajalein Atoll, has the most lucid lay friendly description of a launch to orbit to be found in the public domain. Today’s launch took place from a new pad at Cape Canaveral.