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Another step towards Space Inc.

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American firm Space Exploration Technologies (Space-X) aims for its next big launch into orbit on Sunday — the first of 12 flights in its $1.6-billion contract with NASA to bring supplies to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

Space-X, owned by billionaire Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, is one of several private companies working with NASA to send flights to and from the ISS. NASA has been relying on Russian spacecraft for the last year, after retiring its fleet of shuttles.

On Sunday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to fire at 8:35 p.m. (0035 GMT) to launch the company’s Dragon capsule from Florida’s Cape Canaveral into orbit, loaded with around 455 kg of supplies. Reports indicate that a 40 per cent chance of unfavourable weather could push the launch back by one or two days.

This is to be SpaceX’s second flight this year: in May, the company proved its mettle with a test flight to the ISS.Mr. Musk, during an online “hangout” on Google+, said he aims to massively expand the programme.

Like travelling by airplane, Mr. Musk said he hoped one of the payoffs would be that everyday people, not just the rich, can one day afford a seat.

“Perhaps it can be brought down to being only 10 times more expensive” than a seat on an airplane, he said. NASA administrator Charles Bolden added that part of commercialising the space industry meant the private sector building new low-orbit destinations where companies can use the zero gravity environment for things like materials processing and pharmaceuticals research.

The cargo is all government: the manifest lists supplies from the Japanese and European space agencies, in addition to ones from NASA. Jeff Foust, an aerospace consultant and the editor of TheSpaceReview.com said the industry is at the start of “a very slow transition” from something that is all government to something involving the private sector.

If Sunday’s launch goes as planned, the Dragon capsule should reach the space station by Wednesday. — AFP


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