2 private companies have proven ability to lift supplies to space station
The Cyngus resupply capsule reached the international space station and successfully docked on Sunday (9-29-13). The capsule carried 1,300 pounds of supplies. In a month it will be loaded with trash and unneeded equipment and burned up in reentry.
That is a big step on the path to even bigger capabilities.
Orbital is moving quickly to make up lost time by launching another cargo ship by the end of 2013 and two more in 2014.
There is a lot more background in an article in the Wall Street Journal, Orbital Sends Ship to Space Station.
The challenge now for both SpaceX and Orbital, according to the WSJ article:
building enough spacecraft and launching them at a rapid enough clip to fulfill existing contracts and subsequent options with NASA. Even before Sunday’s success, NASA committed to spend more than $1.9 billion on Orbital cargo missions over several years.
That’s a good place to be: how to deliver on a 1.9 billion contract for 8 private space flights.
Arrival of Cyngus was scheduled for last Sunday but was delayed by a technical glitch. Some changes to software got it back on track.
Isn’t that the story of space travel? Hit a problem, fix it, and move on. Hit another problem and fix it. Repeat and repeat and repeat.
The space frontier is wide open. To explore this frontier requires a billion or two of spare cash. There are frontiers that don’t require billions, like education, publishing, and the oil boom towns.
Update 10-24-13: Beyond the Black linked to this story at Space News: Orbital’s Cygnus Concludes First ISS Cargo Run. Orbital Science Corp’s Cygnus resupply ship was released from the ISS and “deorbited.” It burned up in the atmosphere on reentry, according to plan, on 10-23. Their first resupply run appears to be a smashing success (that’s the assessment from me, a distant, trying-to-get-informed viewer).