NASA announced Friday that Space Exploration Technologies Corp. had been approved for a mission by its SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station early next year, a major win for the Hawthorne company.
SpaceX is scheduled to launch a demonstration flight, with a tentative Feb. 7 launch date, in the first-ever docking of a commercially developed, private rocket ship with the space station. It’s part of NASA’s effort to find a replacement for its retired Space Shuttle program.
NASA said that the demonstration flight, in which the Dragon capsule would be launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, would include a series of check-out procedures to test SpaceX's systems before the rendezvous with the station, unloading cargo, and then returning to Earth.
"We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory," said William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in statement.
NASA is paying SpaceX up to $396 million achieving milestones in its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. For completing 36 of 40 milestones, the company so far has received $376 million.
"SpaceX is excited to be the first commercial company in history to berth with the International Space Station," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in a statement.