SpaceX to become first private firm to send people to space
Location: United States
Date Published: February 17, 2020
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officially confirmed that SpaceX will soon become the first private company in history to launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), both an unexpected twist from the usually tight-lipped space agency and a major upset for rival company Boeing.
Shortly after revealing that the first astronaut-rated Crew Dragon capsule had been completed and shipped eastward, SpaceX and NASA confirmed that the historic spacecraft arrived at SpaceX’s Florida processing facilities on Thursday, February 13th. With that milestone out of the way, it’s now believed that all the hardware needed for SpaceX’s ‘Demo-2’ astronaut launch debut – Falcon 9 booster B1058, a Falcon 9 upper stage, Crew Dragon capsule C206, and a Crew Dragon trunk – is finished, acceptance-tested, and preparing for flight in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Extremely out of character for NASA given that Crew Dragon Demo-2 is expected to launch no earlier than two or three months from now, the space agency’s public statement that SpaceX will launch astronauts first simultaneously implies bad news for Boeing and its Starliner spacecraft.
Contracted under the Commercial Crew Program in 2014, Boeing – awarded $5.1B – and SpaceX – awarded $3.1B – have been working to build two separate crew launch vehicles (Starliner and Crew Dragon) with the intention of ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). While both providers have had their own challenges, Boeing has been beset by numerous software failures born out during Starliner’s December 2019 orbital launch debut.
Meanwhile, SpaceX has launched a new web-based booking tool for its rideshare Falcon 9 launches, a service it announced last year to expand its addressable market to include small satellite customers who don’t have the budget or need to book a full rocket, which can cost upwards of $60 million. Prices for the rideshare services that SpaceX is offering through the website start at $1 million for payloads ranging up to 200 kg (440 lbs), with additional weight adding $5,000 per kg to the cost.
The selection tool asks users to specify the desired orbit (Sun-synchronous, low Earth or polar) and their minimum readiness date (the earliest their payload can possibly fly), with dates starting this June as of this writing. Users then input the total mass of what they want to fly and get an estimated cost. Proceeding brings users to a series of screens where they select whether they’ll need either a 15-inch or 24-inch port on the launch vehicle (which is largely a function of volume and mass), as well as the specific rocket they are looking to book a ride on (from upcoming scheduled missions).
Other options include add-ons like port adapters to meet the standard sizes that SpaceX uses, as well as a SpaceX-provided separation system in case users don’t have their own, along with options for on-site fueling if their spacecraft has its own propulsion system and insurance for up to $2 million in value. It’s a little bit like configuring a car through Tesla’s configurator — but for launching something into space.
This isn’t just a lead-generation form, either; once users have selected all their options, and confirmed that they’re not subject to any actions or International Traffic in Arms (ITAR) restrictions imposed by the U.S. government, users can put in a credit card number to instantly pay $5,000 as a deposit, with three installments due thereafter to make up whatever their total is, including the largest one due within five days of SpaceX confirming acceptance of their request.