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SpaceX's Dragon at the ISS  (Source:
Dragon is expected to return near the end of October

SpaceX is about to take another historical step for the private sector: its Dragon capsule will carry a load of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) on its first official mission.

SpaceX's Dragon made its first trip to the ISS back in May of this year as a test run. All went well, with the Dragon successfully docking at the ISS and then splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.

Thanks to that successful run, SpaceX can now move forward with its very first official mission. The Dragon capsule will carry 1,000 pounds of supplies to the ISS on October 7, and plans to reach the orbiting station on October 10.

Dragon will then spend a few weeks connected to the ISS while astronauts unload the supplies. They will then reload the Dragon with another 734 pounds of scientific supplies and 504 pounds of space station hardware to return to Earth. The plan is to send Dragon home near the end of October.

SpaceX currently has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 unmanned flights to the ISS.

Throughout 2011, NASA retired its remaining three shuttles in its space shuttle fleet: Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis. By July 2011, all three had completed their final missions and ended an era of American space flight to the ISS. American astronauts were then forced to depend on the Russian Soyuz rockets to take supplies to the ISS, but increasing costs for a seat on these rockets pushed the U.S. to find another route.

NASA looked to the private sector to fill its shoes, and SpaceX was a superb candidate with its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX showed the world what the private space sector was made of in May 2012 when the Dragon made a successful maiden flight to the ISS.


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RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By Solandri on 9/23/2012 4:55:34 AM , Rating: 2
Assuming the wikipedia page is correct:

Dragon has a 13,228 lb payload capacity. At $133M a pop, that's $10,050 per lb of payload. That's actually fairly expensive. The Shuttle (with all its life support systems and reentry/landing mechanisms) cost a bit over $10,000 per lb of payload.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle (used to launch Dragon) currently costs $2350 per lb of payload ($54 million for 23,000 lbs of payload, though obviously Dragon does not currently take full advantage of that capacity, and payload to the ISS is a bit lower since it's higher than LEO). So there's a huge margin built into that $1.6 billion contract, presumably to subsidize R&D at SpaceX. Though from NASA's perspective, it's about the same cost to resupply the ISS as using the Shuttle. SpaceX officials say they believe $500/lb is achievable. So hopefully we'll see costs plummet as the years go by.

For comparison, Soyuz costs about $2200/lb of payload to LEO.

An Atlas V about $2500/lb
An Ariane V is about $3000/lb
A Delta II is about $4400/lb (the smaller launch vehicles cost more per lb of payload)

RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By Bubbacub on 9/23/2012 6:19:35 AM , Rating: 4
the average price of a shuttle launch adjusted across the life of the program (excluding all the boondoggle projects that were spawned to justify the existence of the space shuttle) in 2011 dollars is $450 million a go.

if you are going to split up the total cash going from nasa to space x and dividing it by the number of launches then you should do the same for the vehicle that you are comparing it to.

even accounting for subsidising spacex's other activities, falcon 9/dragon is 30% the price of continuing the shuttle program - the price is only going to drop as efficiencies are found in the production line.

and that's assuming that continued use of 25 year old orbiters didn't result in another space disaster and several years of downtime with half of florida still on payroll.

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