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SpaceX capsule launches possibility of commercial flight

by Jorge Hernandez on December 8, 2010

After an initial 24 hour delay following the discovery of cracks in the engine nozzle, SpaceX (or Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) is set to launch its Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida Wednesday morning, leading the effort to bring space flight to the private sector.

If the demonstration flight is a success, the launch could signify a new era of commercial space flight which would see private companies navigating the cosmos as well as tourists flying for fun.

According to the BBC, the Dragon will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket to enter an orbit about 300 kilometers (approximately 187 miles) above the Earth. It will only be shuttling cargo to the International Space Station this go-round, but with room for seven passengers, it could soon be taking humans into "deep space," reports the U.K. Telegraph.

"We're at the point now where it's either commercial human space flight or no human space flight in the US," SpaceX founder Elon Musk told the Telegraph.

NASA, which has a $1.6 billion contract with SpaceX, is funding the venture in the hopes that it will soon be able to shed its reliance on Russian spacecraft and begin to use private companies for astronaut transport.

If NASA were to continue buying seats on Russian spacecraft, round-trip flights would nearly double in cost by 2011 and 2012, costing NASA $51 million rather than the current $26 million, reports the Telegraph.

The Obama administration also backs the venture in hopes that the private sector can take over relatively local shuttle trips, leaving NASA free to develop spacecraft capable of deep space missions, reports the BBC.

Once in orbit, the Dragon is set to circle the Earth nearly twice before parachuting into the Pacific Ocean off the Mexican coast, a feat which no other private company has managed before, reports the Washington Post.

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