SpaceX: First Private Flights to Space Station

September 2, 2010 – 09:58 am
SpaceX Dragon Commercial Cargo CraftA look inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule and its Falcon 9 rocket.
Credit: Karl Tate/

Enter the Dragon

Flying the Dragon spacecraft would require more rocket power, so SpaceX proposed developing the Falcon 9 rocket to send Dragon into orbit. SpaceX initially hoped to fly the spacecraft by 2008 or 2009, but the process took years longer than the company thought.

Both spacecraft and rocket were ready in 2010. Falcon 9 flew with a simulated Dragon payload in June 2010. In December of that year, Dragon took flight for the first time and splashed down on Earth safely.

The next and most crucial milestone was space station delivery. Dragon delivered its first truckload of cargo to the station in May 2012 under a test flight. The launch was scrubbed for a few days following an engine problem, but lifted off safely on the next try.

Regular cargo flights began with a mission in October 2012 that achieved most of its objectives, but experienced a partial rocket failure during launch that stranded a satellite on board. [Images: SpaceX Dragon Capsule's 1st Cargo Flight to Station]

Some critics have charged that SpaceX is not launching Dragon and Falcon 9 flights as regularly as promised, but the company does have a $1.6 billion contract to send spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Future thoughts

The company's next major program goal for Dragon is to take people into space. The company is one of two funded under NASA's Commercial Crew program, and received $2.6 billion under the latest phase that was awarded in 2014. The crewed version of Dragon was unveiled to great fanfare that same year. SpaceX and its competitor, Boeing, are expected to take astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.

SpaceX is also attempting to build a reusable first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket, although all tests to date have been unsuccessful in recovering the stage. Starting in 2013, some launches of Falcon 9 have attempted to land the rocket stage in the ocean or in a barge. In all cases, the rocket was destroyed.


NASA Commercial Crew Human Spaceflight Program for Transport to the International Space Station (ISS): SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Contracts, Safety Reviews, History and Update Reports
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