Two Commercial Space Successes In One Day

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The commercial space industry took some giant leaps forward over the weekend with two separate successful missions. On Sunday, Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus cargo ship successfully rendezvoused with the International Space Station, bringing a load of groceries and other supplies. A few hours later, a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster took a Canadian research satellite to orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Both efforts were mostly funded privately and that, says an industry observer, is a good thing. "It shows private industry is motivated to succeed in space, when they get paid for results," James Muncy, an industry observer and space privatization advocate, told the Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

The Cygnus flight had a hiccup. It was parked in orbit for a week while technicians sorted out glitches that prevented the rendezvous, but early Sunday it moved to within 33 feet of the space station and was grabbed by its robotic arm. SpaceX's successful launch marked the first use of more powerful engines in its rocket that the company believes will make it more reliable and increase its payload. Muncy said it's time for NASA to relinquish the relatively mundane chores of space work to civilians while it concentrates on bigger frontiers. "The agency no longer can afford to do it the old way," he said.