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.
Dragon and Dragon at ISS: SpaceX
Comparison Shuttle-Falcon: Source: SpaceX, NASA, Credit: Alyson Hurt, Designer; Whitney Blair Wyckoff, Producer