SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1Yesterday was an amazing day in commercial spaceflight. First, in the early morning hours, a robotic Orbital Science Cygnus spacecraft rendezvoused and berthed with the International Space Station.

This makes the second operational vehicle to deliver supplies to the space outpost and the first time in history that the US has two launch vehicles and spacecraft supporting its manned space program.

That both vehicles are privately built and operated is no accident. It’s the result of President Obama’s decision to privatize access to low Earth orbit to take over from the Space Shuttle, which retired in 2011. SpaceX became the first private vehicle to reach Station in May 2012.

Check out my report on the Cygnus docking for Popular Mechanics at http://bit.ly/1bn0CrS.

Speaking of SpaceX, that company achieved a milestone of its own yesterday with the first flight of its Falcon 9 v1.1. The rocket features Space Merlin 1D engines that are 55% more powerful than the Merlin 1C, bigger propellant tanks, and a 17′ payload fairing for launching spacecraft that are wider than the 12′ diameter rocket could ordinarily accommodate.

But the real significance of the flight was two separate engine restarts that allowed the rocket’s first stage to come this close to making it back down to Earth in one piece, a space first.

See my report on the Falcon v1.1 flight, also for Popular Mechanics, at http://bit.ly/1bn31mv.

In February, SpaceX is going to attempt to safely land a spent booster after it sends a cargo ship to the International Space Station. This I have to see.