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Monday, August 1, 2011

SpaceX readies November launch to International Space Station


Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), run by Tesla Motors chief executive and PayPal mafioso Elon Musk, is looking at a November launch for its second private space flight to the International Space Station.
It’s one of the first of several launches for the company as part of a 12-flight cargo mission to supply the International Space Station now that the U.S. space shuttle program has ended. SpaceX secured $1.6 billion in funding to run the mission.

“I think it’s a really exciting time for space, because for the first time in several decades we had a very real prospect of fielding multiple human space vehicles,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told VentureBeat. “That’s good for the U.S., it encourages innovation and also provides more than one option, which means it’s more reliable.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is currently discussing developing an in-line, disposable space vehicle that would put between 70 and 130 tons of cargo into orbit. Those rockets are primarily planned for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, Whitesides said. But there’s plenty of room for a company to handle cargo missions and sub-orbital travel, he said.

There’s also room for companies that specialize in space tourism, like Virgin Galactic. That company sells tickets for flights in sub-orbital paths above the Earth for around $200,000, while there are companies in Russia that sell tickets for orbital flights for around $65 million each ticket.

“My sense is that we’ll (Virgin Galactic) be the next american company that sends humans into space,” he said. “Obviously it’s sub-orbital versus orbital, but I think our general expectation whether it’s sub-orbital or orbital is that over time prices will come down.”

SpaceX is one of two companies NASA has contracted to fly cargo missions to the International Space Station now that the shuttle program has ended. NASA has also contracted Orbital Sciences to launch cargo missions to the space station.

SpaceX has raised $500 million from investors and $300 million in funding from NASA. The company was the first to send a private space capsule into orbit and bring it back to Earth in December.