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SpaceX getting millions from NASA as it hits milestones

Hawthorne-based SpaceX has received $25 million from NASA since successfully launching its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule last month.

January 13, 2011|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

Hawthorne-based rocket venture Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has received $25 million from NASA since successfully launching its 18-story Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule from Cape Canaveral last month.

The company, better known as SpaceX, has developed the Dragon capsule under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. The spacecraft, which can carry as many as seven astronauts, is considered a contender for the multibillion-dollar job of ferrying crews to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle is retired this year.

SpaceX already has a $1.6-billion contract with NASA to have the Dragon capsule transport cargo to the space station, a job that could start this year.

Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the NASA program, confirmed in an interview that the space agency has paid the company for reaching a series of important milestones.

"The company is making great progress," Lindenmoyer said, adding that SpaceX earned $5 million in a test launch Dec. 8 when it blasted the Dragon into orbit atop its massive Falcon 9 rocket.

After the spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, it marked the first time that a private company had developed a rocket and capsule capable of circling the globe and returning intact — a technological and financial feat reserved for the wealthiest of nations in half a century of spaceflight.

In addition to the flight, SpaceX achieved four ground-based milestones worth $5 million each, Lindenmoyer said.

The company successfully tested the effect of vibrations on cargo in the Dragon and demonstrated that it could carry out the test at its sprawling facility in Hawthorne, which once housed part of the production for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet. The company also tested the capsule's sensors and solar panels, which are key to docking with the space station.

SpaceX, started by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk, employs more than 1,100 people, mostly in California.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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