The Falcon launcher series and the Dragon cargo transport capsule are being developed on a commercial basis by the US private space enterprise SpaceX. They received a financial support from NASA, searching for a resupply alternative for the ISS after retirement of the Shuttle.  The Falcon 9 launcher is capable of launching 10,5 tons of cargo or a capsule called Dragon carrying a payload of 8 tons to the ISS. Dragon shall lateron be capable to carry a manned return capsule to the International Space Station.

SpaceX aims at a cost per launch of around 60 Million Dollars. SpaceX claims to reach a high reliability of the Falcon 9, enabling manned transportation, by using a conventional proven design.

A successful demonstration of a Dragon capsule launch and return to earth onboard a Falcon 9 took place in 2010. A first test mission to the ISS with an unmanned cargo version of the Dragon capsule is planned for early 2012. A comparison of the Shuttle and the Falcon 9 demonstrates the basic difference between the two space transportation systems. Although neither the Falcon 9 nor the Dragon capsule are not reusable, and the Shuttle can transport nearly three times the payload to the ISS in a single mission, will the total cost per Kg transported to the ISS be largely inferior for the Falcon 9, provided the cost estimates of SpaceX will hold.

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Dragon and Dragon at ISS: SpaceX

Comparison Shuttle-Falcon:  Source: SpaceX, NASA, Credit: Alyson Hurt, Designer; Whitney Blair Wyckoff, Producer