X

This is not a paywall.

Register for free to continue reading.

We made a promise to you that we’ll never erect a paywall and we intend to keep that promise. We also want to continually improve your reading experience and you can help us do that by registering with us. It’s quick, easy and will cost you nothing.



Nearly there! Create a password to finish up registering with us:


Please enter your password or get a login link if you’ve forgotten


Open Sesame! Thanks for registering.

First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

We'd like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick

More specifically, we'd like those who can afford to pay to start paying. What it comes down to is whether or not you value Daily Maverick. Think of us in terms of your daily cappuccino from your favourite coffee shop. It costs around R35. That’s R1,050 per month on frothy milk. Don’t get us wrong, we’re almost exclusively fuelled by coffee. BUT maybe R200 of that R1,050 could go to the journalism that’s fighting for the country?

We don’t dictate how much we’d like our readers to contribute. After all, how much you value our work is subjective (and frankly, every amount helps). At R200, you get it back in Uber Eats and ride vouchers every month, but that’s just a suggestion. A little less than a week’s worth of cappuccinos.

We can't survive on hope and our own determination. Our country is going to be considerably worse off if we don’t have a strong, sustainable news media. If you’re rejigging your budgets, and it comes to choosing between frothy milk and Daily Maverick, we hope you might reconsider that cappuccino.

We need your help. And we’re not ashamed to ask for it.

Our mission is to Defend Truth. Join Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

SpaceX blasts ordinary companies into the space game

Business Maverick

Business Maverick, Sci-Tech

SpaceX blasts ordinary companies into the space game

The Dragon capsule designed by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies became the first commercial space craft to orbit the earth. Unlike Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, Dragon is a giant leap towards the goal of private corporations getting into the space travel business. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

On Wednesday the Dragon parachuted down into the Pacific Ocean, three hours, 19 minutes and 52 seconds after it had been blasted into space by the liquid oxygen and kerosene propelled Falcon 9 rocket, orbiting the earth twice. The launch, space orbit and re-entry all went flawlessly. The big deal about it, of course, is that it was the first time that a commercially built spacecraft has been launched into low-Earth orbit.

The boffins behind the Dragon run SpaceX, a company founded in 2002 by the South African-born Elon Musk to some day commercialise space tourism. The mission was a demo for Nasa, which is thinking of giving out tenders to private companies to ferry cargo and possibly astronauts to the International Space Station. Nasa is on the verge of cancelling the Ares I rocket and its Orion crew capsule, designed to act as a ferry to the ISS, after congress cut funding to the space agency, and has begun searching for companies to take over some of its missions. According to The New York Times, SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with Nasa to make 12 flights to the ISS, and the space agency was reportedly very impressed with the demo orbit. 

Joseph Fragola, an expert on spacecraft reliability who had initially been sceptical that a private company could meet Nasa’s safety requirements, said the flawless demo mission was a surprise. “In my gut, I expected some anomalies at least, but as of now there appear to have been none,” he said. “That was a surprise, given the challenging nature of the flight plan.”

Watch: Private space rocket takes off

Musk was a little more bombastic in his assessment of the mission. “Dragon has arguably more capability than Orion,” he said. “Basically, anything Orion can do, Dragon can do.”

The essential difference between SpaceX’s Dragon and SpaceShipOne – designed by Burt Rutan’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures with the backing of Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen – is that SpaceShipOne never went into orbit and can’t reach the ISS. It went straight up and came straight down again and is, for all intents, a glorified airplane. Although the Falcon 9 rockets that lifted Dragon into orbit cannot propel it to the ISS either, SpaceX is now in a position to add a second-stage rocket to the spacecraft, which would launch it into the higher end of low-Earth orbit, in the region of 320km above the Earth’s surface, where the ISS is.

That is exactly what SpaceX plans for early next year. A second demo mission will boost Dragon to the ISS, but it will not dock. But after that, a docking mission will be made.

Elon Musk, also the founder of Tesla Motors, is one of a select group of gentlemen, dubbed the Paypal Mafia, who are considered the inspiration behind the rise of consumer-driven internet companies after the dot-com bust. The group is informal, its members all co-founders or early investors in internet payment company, Paypal, and who have gone on to start other revolutionary companies. Included in the group are Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons, YouTube’s Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Clarium Capital’s Peter Thiel. The Paypal Mafia invest in each other’s ideas and also have big money in companies like Facebook, Digg, Flickr, Last.FM and TokBox. DM


Read more: The New York Times, Space.com.

Gallery

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted