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Private firms are re-invigorating the space programme as Cygnus prepares to follow Dragon as a private cargo carrier

cygnus-craftHas anyone spotted how successful so far has been NASA’s switch to seeding private firms to supply the International Space Station?  First were the two visits of the Dragon capsule from SpaceX, and now today the Cygnus craft from Orbital Sciences will dock there.  Launched from a two-stage Antares rocket last week on a “demonstration mission,” Cygnus has been performing a series of manoeuvres to alter its orbit and ultimately take it alongside the ISS.  There will be a deliberately aborted approach before it is finally parked 10 metres away in drift mode so it can be grabbed by astronaut Karen Nyberg with the robotic arm, where tomorrow begins the unloading of 1,500lb of supplies.  NASA’s £1.2bn contract with Orbital Sciences covers 8 visits to the station.  Unlike Dragon, Cygnus will be loaded with garbage and allowed to burn up during its descent towards the Pacific.

NASA’s use of private contractors, all founded by internet billionaires, seems to have reinvigorated the space programme.  Since manned vehicles are scheduled to join the line-up of private spacecraft, it looks as though the tactic will make space cheaper and more accessible, as well as taking it out of the monopoly hands of governments.  It’s all becoming interesting again…

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