The arrival of Space X’s new Dragon capsule to the International Space Station in November will mark a new beginning for space travel; however, the race to control the commercial space industry does not stop there, for Blue Origins and Orbital Sciences are hoping to follow suit.
NASA is in need of these space taxis because currently only the Russian Soyuz spacecraft are able to transport people to the ISS due to the fact that the American space shuttle program was retired in July. However, on August 24, a Russian cargo ship failed because it did not separate stages properly, exposing the susceptibility to problems that comes with only having one way for crew to fly to and from the space station.
After the December 8 mission, which was under the supervision of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Service (COTS), Space X sucesfully delievered the Dragon to orbit on its Falcon 9 rocket. Subsequently, plans were made for Space X to begin making supply runs to the ISS starting in November.
However, these plans are now in a state of limbo because Vladimir Solovyov, head of the Russian segment of the ISS mission control center, announced on September 16 that Space X will not be granted permission to dock the Dragon spacecraft at the ISS. As a major contributor to much of the hardware of the ISS as well as the primary mode of transportation for both supplies and people, the Russian federation has significant influence when it comes to operations at the ISS. The head of the human spaceflight department of Roscosmos believes that Space X is simply not ready for docking with the ISS.
“We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliability and safety is proven,” said Krasov in an interview with space-travel.com. “So far we have no proof that this spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of spaceflight safety.”
Although Space X may have acquired the first mission to the ISS, their competitor Blue Origins is not far behind. They are making improvements to their vehicle dubbed New Shepard. Setbacks have plagued the commercial space industry and since its inception Blue Origins has not been a stranger to failure.
Founded by Jeff Bezos and operating out of Kent,WA, a developmental test spacecraft of Blue Orgin’s failed at an altitude of 45,000 feet in West Texas. According to Bezos, this setback was due to flight instability, and they have apparently fixed the error. Fortunately, Bezos announced that Blue Origins has already started on their next orbital crew vehicle to aid NASA’s commercial crew program. In April, NASA granted $22 million to the company to help develop the rocketry systems and a potential crew capsule for future manned spaceflight operations in orbit and to the ISS.
Orbital Sciences is also not far behind Space X in terms of its preparation for commercial spaceflight supply operations to the ISS. In early September, the company was granted a license to test its Taurus II rocket, which carries the Cygnus capsule.
“Taurus II uses many heritage components that have already been flight proven or are derived from proven flight hardware,” said VP of Orbital Sciences Commercial Space Launch Vehicles Mark Pieczynski, “thus lowering the initial development risk that is inherent most new technology development.”
Orbital Sciences has been thinking further ahead as well, as a matter of fact they have an Advanced Programs Group which is constantly looking for new innovative technologies that could get them a step ahead and which would subsequently allow them to rocket ahead of the competition. Who will win out is unknown, but it is certain that all of these companies are trying to be to first in the commercial space race.
“Those that have the wisdom and the fortitude to continue to move forward,” said Pieczynski, will be the ones that capture tomorrow’s hold on space launch.”