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SpaceX, NASA set launch date for first contracted cargo mission

September 20, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan
  • SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is attached to the International Space Station.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is attached to the International Space… (NASA )

While all eyes are on the arrival of space shuttle Endeavour to Southern California, engineers at rocket maker SpaceX in Hawthorne are readying its spacecraft for the first NASA contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station.

On Thursday, NASA confirmed that the much-anticipated launch of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft aboard the 18-story Falcon 9 is scheduled for Oct. 7 at 8:34 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The Dragon will be filled with about 1,000 pounds of supplies.

The company, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., has a $1.6-billion contract to haul cargo in 12 flights to the space station for NASA. The upcoming launch will be the first flight to fulfill the contract.

In May, SpaceX carried out a successful demonstration mission to the station.

With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, NASA is hoping to turn the job of carrying cargo and crews over to private industry at a lower cost. Meanwhile, the space agency will focus on deep-space missions to land probes on asteroids and Mars.

NASA has poured hundreds of millions of dollars in seed money into SpaceX in hopes that the company can one day complete routine missions to the space station. The space agency pays $63 million to the Russians each time it wants to send an astronaut to the station.

Critics, including some former astronauts, have voiced concerns about NASA's move toward private space missions. They said private space companies are risky ventures with unproven technology.

With its successful demonstration mission, SpaceX is a leading contender to carry astronauts for NASA one day. Company officials say cargo missions will yield valuable flight experience toward accomplishing this goal by 2015.

Founded in 2002, SpaceX makes the Dragon and Falcon 9 at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once was used to assemble fuselage sections for Boeing 747s. The hardware is put on a big rig and trucked to Cape Canaveral for launches.

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