* Company flew practice mission in May
* Second station freighter prepares for debut flight
* SpaceX launch slated for 8:35 p.m. EDT Sunday
By Irene Klotz
Cape Canaveral, Fla., Oct 5 Space Exploration
Technologies, the first private company to fly to the
International Space Station, is poised to launch its initial
cargo mission to the orbital outpost as part of a $1.6 billion
contract with NASA to deliver supplies.
Liftoff of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule
is scheduled for 8:35 p.m. EDT on Sunday (0035 GMT Monday) from
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
If successful, the company, founded and run by Internet
entrepreneur Elon Musk, will restore a U.S. supply line to the
station that was cut off by the retirement of the space shuttles
Since then, NASA has been dependent on Russian, European and
Japanese freighters to service the station, a permanently
staffed research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (400 km)
In May the firm, also known as SpaceX, made a practice run
to the $100 billion orbital outpost, a project of 15 countries,
clearing the way for the first of 12 cargo runs.
SpaceX is one of two firms hired by NASA to deliver cargo to
Its other contractor, Orbital Sciences Corp., on
Oct. 1 rolled out its first Antares rocket to a new launch pad
on Wallops Island, Virginia, for an engine test-firing slated
for this month or early November.
The rocket is scheduled to make its debut flight before the
end of the year.
Orbital also plans a practice run to the space station,
similar to what SpaceX did when its Dragon ship docked at the
station. If all goes well, Orbital will be cleared to begin work
on its $1.9-billion NASA contract to fly cargo to the station.
For Dragon's first supply run, NASA is sending about 1,000
pounds (454 kg) of food, clothing, supplies and science gear to
Unlike previous station cargo ships, which were not reusable
and burned up in the atmosphere during descent, SpaceX's capsule
returns to Earth.
As a result, it will be able to carry back experiment
samples and station hardware that is broken or no longer needed.
NASA contributed $396 million to SpaceX and up to $288
million to Orbital to help the firms develop their cargo ships.
The agency is running a related, $1.12 billion program with
SpaceX, Boeing and privately owned Sierra Nevada Corp. to
design station crew transports.
"There's this burst of creativity going on in the private
sector," said former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman, who joined
SpaceX in March 2011.
"It's analogous to the golden age of air travel, between the
two world wars, where people were trying all different things
because nobody knew back then what an airplane was supposed to
look like," he said at the American Institute of Aeronautics and
Astronautics space conference last month.
NASA hopes to be able to buy rides for its astronauts on
commercial space taxis by 2017, breaking Russia's monopoly on
station crew transports.
The Dragon capsule was expected to reach the station on
Wednesday. It would then remain berthed at the outpost for about
18 days and make a parachute descent into the Pacific Ocean on