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SpaceX rocket lifts off for space station trial run

posted 22 May 2012, 04:27 by Mpelembe   [ updated 22 May 2012, 04:27 ]


SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, dragon capsule blasts off for trial run to Space Station.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES (MAY 22, 2012) (NASA TV) - An unmanned rocket owned by privately held Space Exploration Technologies blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday (May 22) for a mission designed to be the first commercial flight to the International Space Station.

The 178-foot (54-meter) tall Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:44 a.m. (0744 GMT) from a refurbished launch pad just south of where NASA launched its now-retired space shuttles.

The U.S. space agency is counting on companies like Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to take over flying cargo - and eventually astronauts - to the 100 billion US dollars space station, which orbits about 240 miles (390 km) above Earth.

Currently, NASA is dependent on Russia to fly crew to the station, at a cost of more than 60 million US dollars per person. Russia, Europe and Japan also cargo to the station.

If its test flight is successful, SpaceX would become the first private company to reach the space station, a microgravity research complex for biological, materials, fluid physics and other science experiments and technology demonstrations.

SpaceX, founded and operated by internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, and Orbital Sciences Corp already hold contracts worth a combined 3.5 billion US dollars to fly cargo to the station.

SpaceX also is among four firms vying to build space taxis to fly astronauts, tourists and non-NASA researchers.

Separately, NASA contributed nearly 400 million US dollars to SpaceX's 1.2 billion US dollars commercial space program, which includes development and up to three test flights of Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules.

An analysis by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that a similar program under a traditional NASA procurement would have cost four to 10 times as much, said

NASA's Alan Lindenmoyer, who manages the agency's commercial spaceflight initiatives.

If Dragon can be successfully manoeuvered and operated in orbit, it is expected to be cleared for a berthing at the space station on Friday.