SpaceX, the Hawthorne-based rocket developer, was given approval Friday to launch its first human transport mission.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration approved a mission to the International Space Station for late 2017, marking the agency’s growing interest in having U.S. companies deliver crews into orbit.
According to NASA, commercial crew launches will cost significantly less than what the agency pays the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service.
Boeing received its first astronaut mission order in May.
SpaceX’s crew transportation system, called the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has gone through several development and certification phases, NASA said.
"The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, in a press release. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”
SpaceX also appears poised to win its first contract for a military satellite launch after its main competitor, a joint team from Lockheed Martin and Boeing, declined to submit a bid.
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