This morning’s successful flight of the commercial, privately-developed Falcon 9 launch vehicle placed a mockup of its Dragon orbital vehicle into low Earth orbit (LEO). Falcon 9 is a serious contender for the role of a medium- to heavy-lift launch vehicle to be marketed to NASA (and all comers) for use in servicing the International Space Station (ISS) and for other future programs. Variants of this booster can deliver 10 to 25 metric tonnes of payload to LEO, making it comparable at the high end with the lifting capacity of the Space Shuttle, the Atlas V, Ariane 5 (ESA), Long March 5 (PRC), and Proton (
Competition with other promising launch providers will help keep customer costs down. Two companies have focused on the short-term market for suborbital flights with “airline-style” operations. Keep your eyes on XCOR for flights of its booster which uses high-performance, highly reusable engines. XCOR has recently signed a marketing agreement with KLM Airlines and a lease contract with a company in
Curacao for commercial use of its Lynx suborbital vehicle.. Also watch for news on the SpaceShip2 system developed by Mohave Aerospace for commercial suborbital tourist flights by Virgin Galactic. The latter’s prospects hang on the successful development of the hybrid engine for the SpaceShip2 passenger vehicle. Its White Knight 2 carrier aircraft has already been extensively flight-tested.