Commercial spaceflight is starting to become routine. SpaceX's Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean Sunday, completing the company's third resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Via NASA)
The capsule had been docked at the ISS for nearly a month. It took 2.5 tons of supplies and science experiments to the station and brought 1.7 tons back to Earth. (Via NASA)
The successful mission means SpaceX is now a quarter of the way through its $1.6 billion contract with NASA to haul cargo to the station. But these missions are just a first step for the company, which is poised to play a key role in space in the next few years.
Currently, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are the only American companies to have successfully flown missions to the ISS for NASA. (Via NASA)
But SpaceX is also positioned to win big thanks to recent tensions between Russia and the U.S. The two countries have been trading sanctions over the situation in Ukraine, and that animosity has bled into space exploration. (Via Voice of America)
In early April, NASA cut off all communication with Russia's space agency, with the one exception being cooperation on the ISS. Then, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin threatened to cut off even that, saying NASA could try getting its astronauts to the station using a trampoline. Finally, Rogozin banned the sale of Russian engines to U.S. companies for military launches. (Via Mashable, Twitter / @Rogozin, The Wall Street Journal)
Right now, Russia is the only option for getting U.S. astronauts into space, and now that the relationship has started to sour, there's a renewed push to get private American companies ready to ferry astronauts into low Earth orbit.
A writer for Motherboard says, of the companies competing to be first, "Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin company has barely tested anything, and both Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing's entries into the ISS race are expected to use Atlas V rockets — and their Russian engines." The end result? "SpaceX is about to get paid."
Of course, it's not surprising SpaceX would dream big, considering its founder Elon Musk goes around saying things like this.
"We're going all the way to Mars, I think. That's what we..."
"Best case, 10 years. Worst case, 15-20 years." (Via The Wall Street Journal)
The company is currently aiming to carry out its first manned space mission in 2015.