NASA clears SpaceX for trial run to space station

A private company will make a trial cargo run to the International Space Station in February, a key step in a new U.S. program to buy spaceflight services on a commercial basis, NASA said on Friday.

California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, plans to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on February 7.

The mission would mark the second flights of the Falcon 9 and Dragon, which debuted in December 2010.

"SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station," NASA associate administrator William Gerstenmaier said in a statement.

"We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory."

Since the retirement of the space shuttles this summer, the United States is relying on partner countries like Russia to transport supplies and crew to the space station.

To encourage commercial cargo runs, NASA has hired SpaceX and a second company, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. to fly cargo to the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 countries, which orbits about 240 miles above Earth.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/09/us-space-business-idUSTRE7B825D20111209

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