After another successful launch and docking of the SpaceX Dragon capsule late last week the company appear to have established itself as a major player in the ground-to-LEO (Low Earth Orbit) sector of the space industry. The latest mission is the third flawless flight made by the California-based company to the International Space Station (ISS) using the combination of it’s Falcon 9 Launcher and the Dragon capsule.
Contrast this with the massive problem facing the U.S. since the loss of the Space Shuttle after its retirement in 2011. Simply put the U.S. has had no manned space launch capability since then and relies 100% on the Russian Roscosmos agency’s Soyuz capsule to transport crew to and from the ISS.
This situation can never have been comfortable. Now with the latest developments in Ukraine and all the political tension and posturing, the decision to not only abandon the shuttle before a replacement was available but also to cut NASA’s budget significantly (and repeatedly) is now coming back to haunt the political “leaders” responsible.
And the dependency doesn’t end there. Other U.S. government agencies and national security payloads equally rely on the same Russian launch capabilities and facilities, many of which are located inside the disputed territories.
There are currently three companies contracted by NASA to develop manned launch capabilities: Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. Of these SpaceX seems to be closest to having a true manned-launch capability for the ISS. Though the specific budget to develop these partnerships has also been cut, amplifying the lack of vision.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Elon Musk was in conversation in a dimly lit room with NASA and government representatives discussing how quickly SpaceX could fast-track the manned versions of Dragon!