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SpaceX's Dragon at the ISS  (Source: wired.com)
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.

Source: Space.com



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RE: $1.6B for 12 trips
By dlapine on 9/24/2012 10:55:09 AM , Rating: 3
These are unmanned flights. You need to know the cost of a Progress unmanned flight, as well as it's upload and download mass to compare them correctly.

Progress only lifts 2600KG and can only return a paltry 150KG back to earth safely.

Dragon lifts 6000KG and can return 3000KG.

Hmmm, I found some cost estimates from a Nasawatch article-http://nasawatch.com/archives/2011/05/using-bad-nu...

"SpaceX was awarded $1.6 billion to deliver 20 metric tons on 12 cargo resupply missions."

That would be $80M per metric ton.

"Approximate cost per pound to ISS

Space Shuttle* - $21,268
Russian Progress - $18,149"

And that would be just about $40M per ton from the Progress.

Soyuz is cheaper, but has some limitations in how much it can move in a single flight. Dragon will return about twice as much equipment as a Progress can in it's first cargo flight alone.

One reason the cost is higher is that the first contact (CRS) from NASA has extra money in it to help pay for the development of hardware and procedures for ISS operations of the Dragon.

Future contacts won't need that overhead and would be more cost efficient for that reason alone.

I'd also note that NASA is not making full use of Dragon's cargo capacity at this time. 12 Dragon flights could lift 72 metric tons, but they've chosen to utilize just 20 metric tons. You usually pay for a launch, and try to get as much onto it as possible. They could easily double the amount of cargo and bring that price down to the level of the Russian craft.

As the manned variant of the Dragon is still in development, I'm not sure what the costs for a manned flight will look like.


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