(Sen) - NASA announced this week that SpaceX's first contracted cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for October.
The announcement was made by NASA boss Charles Bolden during a visit to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Bolden confirmed SpaceX had completed its Space Act Agreement under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program and was certified to ship cargo to the space station. SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, demonstrated its readiness in May this year when its Dragon spacecraft delivered cargo to the orbiting complex. This was the first time a private spacecraft had berthed with the space station. The company, founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, had also made history in December 2010 when it become the first company to send a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely to Earth.
SpaceX has a 'Commercial Resupply Services' contract, awarded by NASA in December 2008, for up to twelve cargo flights to the space station.
Katherine Nelson, VP of Communications for SpaceX, told Sen: "SpaceX is currently readying our Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for the first official cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. We are targeting an October launch from our Cape Canaveral facility."
Also scheduled for October is the first demonstration flight of Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket. Orbital is also working under NASA's COTS Program, having been selected in 2008. Orbital, established in 1982 and quoted on the New York Stock Exchange, is developing the Antares launcher to lift its Cygnus spacecraft to orbit. The second demonstration flight, when the Cygnus spacecraft will attempt to dock with the space station, is scheduled for December 2012. Provided Orbital's two demonstration flights go according to plan, Orbital will begin its first cargo supply in 2013. Orbital, like SpaceX, has a Commercial Resupply Services contract, though Orbital's is for up to eight supply missions.
NASA plans to use SpaceX and Orbital to ship cargo to the space station, whilst it concentrates on developing its own rocket, Space Launch System (SLS) for deep space missions.
SpaceX's Dragon, and potentially Orbital's Cygnus, will add to the existing range of cargo ships that regularly supply the ISS - Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Japan's HTV and Russia's Progress supply ship.
During his visit to Cape Canaveral, Administrator Bolden also announced that Sierra Nevada Corporation had completed its first milesone, a program implementation plan review, under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) agreement with NASA. Sierra Nevada Corporation is one of three companies given NASA cash under CCiCap. Others given the development funding were Boeing, developng the CST-100 and SpaceX which is building a crewed version of Dragon.
Artist illustration of Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser spaceship. Credit: Sierra Nevada Corporation.
Also in Florida this week it was announced that XCOR Aerospace, which is developing the Lynx spacecraft for suborbital spaceflights, would relocate operations from Mojave in California to Florida. Space Florida, set up to promote the state as the place to do space business, welcomed the news and the estimated 150 new jobs would be created through to 2018.
XCOR plans to use the the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility for its Lynx suborbital service once commercial flights begin. The company added that, depending on how business goes, it may also establish a manufacturing base in Florida to make the Lynx spacecraft, of which several models are planned. XCOR is also setting up a research and development centre in Texas.
Jeff Greason, XCOR CEO, commented: "Looking over the KSC [Kennedy Space Center] Visitor Complex grounds and seeing the history of US human spaceflight and realizing that soon XCOR will be a part of the fabric of the Space Coast is very exciting to me personally and our company”.