SpaceX announced recently that it would be integrating a stripped-down test version of its own Dragon cargo capsule as the payload for its first Falcon 9 test launch. The Falcon 9 rocket is currently scheduled to launch on November 29 of this year if everything goes according to plan. However, Elon Musk admits that launch day will likely slip to sometime early next year.
The Falcon 9 is the heavy launch vehicle designed by SpaceX to be used as a cheap, commercial alternative to existing United States launch platforms. Having launched a few successful light missions with the Falcon 1 rocket, SpaceX is going to launch the Falcon 9 as its next milestone in commercializing the space industry. Utilizing its own cargo capsule as the first Falcon 9 payload will effectively give SpaceX double the tests for one launch slot on the Cape Canaveral range. The capsule that will be used is a test version of the full Dragon capsule that encompasses primarily the structure and a few components of the full version. It served originally as a ground test platform for the Dragon design team and now will double as an orbital testbed.
If nothing else, the announcement upped the ante in the commercial space market by showing the SpaceX is capable and willing to push the envelope on its development schedules. It should serve as a proper motivator for other commercial competitors such as Orbital Sciences with their Cygnus capsule, which is also under development.