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SpaceX Touts Its NASA Crew/Cargo Solution, Sees Commercial Space Boom

By | August 28, 2006

      Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, predicted it will do well in providing commercial transport flights into space under a contract from NASA.

      SpaceX predicted that the contracts which NASA handed to the California firm and to Rocketplane Kistler (RpK) will help to open space to commercial travel and logistics services, just as the U.S. government awarding mail-hauling contracts to airplane owners some 80 years ago led to creation of the airline system.

      NASA awarded the contracts to the two firms to prove they can provide economical but reliable space transport services, first for cargo, and later for astronaut crews. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Aug. 21, 2006, page 1.)

      At some future point, NASA will award contracts for actual transport work that might be worth a $500 million prize over five years.

      This will signal the emergence of a dichotomy in space travel, where routine resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) will be handled by private firms, while NASA itself will continue to perform the high-profile missions, such as manned voyages to the moon, Mars and beyond.

      Currently, the ISS is supplied by the U.S. space shuttle fleet, which is slated to retire in 2010, and by Russian spacecraft. In future, supplies also could move to the ISS, and garbage hauled out of the ISS, by private contractors in the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program for NASA.

      SpaceX team mates for COTS include ARES Corp., MDA Federal Inc., Odyssey Space Research L.L.C., Paragon Space Development Corporation, and SPACEHAB, Inc.

      As part of this Agreement, SpaceX will execute three flights of its Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spaceship, according to the company. These will be the first flights of the Dragon spaceship and the fourth, fifth and sixth flights of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

      The missions are scheduled to occur in late 2008 to 2009 SpaceX predicted.

      The Dragon spaceship is designed from the beginning to have an identical structure for both cargo and crew transport, allowing for a rapid transition from unmanned to manned flight as soon as reliability is proven, according to the company.

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