NASA clears SpaceX for trial run to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Fri Dec 9, 2011 5:25pm EST

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Scott Audette

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Cape Canaveral, Florida December 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Scott Audette

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A private company will make a trial cargo run to the International Space Station in February, a key step in a new U.S. program to buy spaceflight services on a commercial basis, NASA said on Friday.

California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on February 7.

The mission would mark the second flights of the Falcon 9 and Dragon, which debuted in December 2010.

"SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station," NASA associate administrator William Gerstenmaier said in a statement.

"We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory."

Since the retirement of the space shuttles this summer, the United States is relying on partner countries like Russia to transport supplies and crew to the space station.

To encourage commercial cargo runs, NASA has hired SpaceX and a second company, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. to fly cargo to the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 countries, which orbits about 240 miles above Earth.

A successful test flight by SpaceX -- as well as a similar run by Orbital scheduled for next year -- would begin restoring U.S. access to the station, which is expected to remain operational until at least 2020.

The companies' contracts are worth $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion, respectively.

The space station serves as an orbiting laboratory for medical, fluid physics, materials science and other experiments. It also hosts astronomical platforms, including the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector.

In addition to commercial cargo transport services, NASA is working with four companies to develop space taxis to fly crew to and from the station. The firms are SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp., and Blue Origin, a start-up owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

A solicitation for the next phase of the program is expected to be released this winter.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Chris Wilson)

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Comments (13)
Mcamelyne wrote:
It’s wonderful news that Space X is on the way to fulfilling Elon’s dreams of creating a space transportation service. It’s shocking that America has allowed itself to fall into this unhappy state where it no longer has the ability to launch astronauts into space. This resulted from Congressional overreach into NASA’s affairs and a culture of risk avoidance. Any time one sits on top of a bomb and rides it into space, there will be an element of risk. We need to move beyond a riskless culture and back to a culture of exploration. Good luck Space X.

Dec 09, 2011 7:49pm EST  --  Report as abuse
rvail136 wrote:
My father (Dr. Edwin George Vail, Ph.D. 1921-1997) designed life support systems and space suits, first for the Air Force (1950′s) and later NASA…he maintained until his dying day, that America made a mistake in it’s “govermental approach” to space travel. He always thought that the government should have unleashed the private sector back in the 1960′s. He always fervently believed that the government would be a brake on space exploration, instead of pioneering.

He also thought we should have taken the step of building a permanent space station PRIOR to going to the moon…and that merely “visiting” the moon, instead of a colony…

I believe he has been proven right. At every step, the government has bungled things and made them far more expensive than should/would be the case…

Rich Vail
Pikesville, Maryland

Dec 09, 2011 8:19pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JustMe256 wrote:
Excellent! Now we have the equivalent of UPS/FedEx on the job and the equivalent of the USPS off the job. Things should begin to pick up quit nicely in the near future, if Obama doesn’t shut it down claiming somebody’s making to much money doing it and it aint far…

Dec 09, 2011 10:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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