Space trucking became a reality at 3.44am this morning when the SpaceX Dragon freight capsule was launched into space from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
It’s the first attempt by a private corporation to demonstrate that it can deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
Dragon is carrying about half a tonne of supplies to the space station, including food, clothing, lab equipment, cargo bags and computer supplies.
It will also have a reverse logistics role, returning to earth with experimental materials, space walk hardware and a multifiltration bed.
SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies, has some $4 billion in contracts and more than 40 launches on its manifest. Commercial launches represent over 60 per cent of its upcoming missions.
The company is also planning a more powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy, which will be able to carry payloads of 53 tonnes.
The reason that NASA is bringing in the private sector to operate freight services is, of course, to cut costs. SpaceX reckons it offers the lowest cost per kilo to orbit – $54m per trip. It says that “modest” discounts are available.
But more than that, it is going to mean redefining many supply chain terms. Do we now have to think of extended supply chains in extra-planetary terms? Supply chain risk will now have to include being hit by space junk.
And ECR will now have to start work on reducing space miles – after all, space is a fragile environment.