SpaceX says accident probe will not slow space taxi effort

An explosion on the launch site of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is shown in Cape Canaveral, Florida September 1, 2016. Courtesy of via REUTERS

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - SpaceX on Thursday said efforts to develop and certify a space taxi for NASA are not being slowed by an investigation into a launch pad fire that destroyed its rocket and a $200 million Israeli communications satellite.

Boeing Co and SpaceX, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, are building spaceships to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, a $100 billion laboratory that flies 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

NASA, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is looking to turn over crew transport to SpaceX and Boeing before the end of 2018, breaking a Russian monopoly. SpaceX is aiming for its first test flight to the station in 2017.

“We’re full-steam head for certification. We’re still trying to remain on schedule,” Abhishek Tripathi, director of certification for SpaceX, said during a webcast panel discussion at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Long Beach, California.

“I know what I need to do in the next day and in the next month,” Tripathi said, adding that his work is not being affected by the accident investigation. SpaceX, with oversight from the Federal Aviation Administration, is working to figure out why one of its Falcon 9 rockets burst into flames on Sept. 1 as it was being fueled for a routine pre launch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The blaze destroyed the communications satellite, owned by Israel’s Space Communication Ltd, which was scheduled to be carried into orbit two days later.

SpaceX has not yet disclosed how much damage was done at its primary launch site.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said on Wednesday the company was hoping to resume flights in November at a second, nearly complete launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, adjacent to the Air Force base.

The company, which has a backlog of 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers, worth more than $10 billion, also flies from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky