The Rockets That Could Still Save the Day for NASA

When a Russian Soyuz rocket on its way to resupply the International Space Station crashed last week, it brought down with it confidence in the continuity of the space station program. The next Soyuz launch was pushed back, and on Monday, NASA announced that it was considering abandoning the space station altogether until it was satisfied it had a reliable way to get astronauts there. That uncertainty has put pressure on the private U.S. companies currently developing the next U.S. space vehicles that will replace the retired space shuttle. It also gave rise to suggestions that other countries' vehicles could be used to supply the station, though none are officially being considered to ferry astronauts there. Below, we've compiled a list of the launch vehicles, capsules, and space planes being considered as alternatives to the Russian Soyuz rockets.

  • SpaceX Falcon 9 / Dragon: Probably the best-known private U.S. space company, SpaceX is set to test-launch its Dragon space capsule on Nov. 30. The pressure is on for a successful flight, reported Florida Today, as that could lead to a contract with NASA as soon as next year. Dragon carries seven passengers and a total payload of 6,614 pounds. Last December, a Spacex capsule orbited the earth twice before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. SpaceX wants to perform a "virtual docking" in the November test, as well as a "berthing" test, in which the space station would grab the capsule with its robotic arm. The Dragon is designed to be lifted into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, a two-stage rocket that lifted the first Dragon test capsule.

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