It’s not quite Ryanair meets space transport, since the seats are way, way too roomy, but it’s headed that way.
The privately owned SpaceX corporation has shown off the interior of its Dragon orbital transporter for American TV. SpaceX holds conditional contracts to fly supply missions to the International Space Station as a Space Shuttle and Soyuz replacement.
The Dragon is intended to fly an unmanned mission lasting up to 22 days to the ISS from late next month, and perform regular manned missions from 2015.
Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, this second orbital flight of the Dragon is intended to rendezvous with the space station, and after extensive maneuvering and communication tests, remain docked with it while space station crew unload a test cargo load of supplies.
SpaceX is among the new generation of US companies seeking to commercialise manned orbital flight with privately funded spacecraft designs at a small fraction of the cost of the now retired US Space Shuttle fleet and the former Soviet era Soyuz craft that Russia operates on ISS supply missions.
The Dragon is essentially a ballistic device, or if you wish, a very large, fast, flame proof reinforced thruster, heat shield and parachute equipped cannonball, just like the first manned spacecraft, the Vostok, the Mercury, Gemini, Soyuz and Apollo vehicles.
In manned missions it will carry up to seven people, as could the Space Shuttles.
The founder of SpaceX, South African born businessman Elon Musk, famously said the 80% of the current costs of lifting payloads into orbit was consumed by administration.
He proved that point in relation to launchers by developing the Falcon 9 rocket for a fraction of the time and money of any other comparable space lifter.
Those claims are now about to put to the test in relation to manned missions, with tens of billions of dollars of orbital supply contracts riding on the ability of SpaceX and other private competitors to provide safe, reliable low cost manned and unmanned resupply missions.