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US firms target astronaut flights

Posted in Science on 10th Jan, 2013 10:38 PM by AlexMuller

Its intention is to be able to deliver a crew to the International Space Station by the end of that year. The first flights would carry the company's own test pilots - not US space agency (Nasa) astronauts.


"We're not selling tickets. Don't call our toll-free number," joked Garrett Reisman, SpaceX's commercial crew project manager.The company is already in receipt of a contract from the agency to deliver cargo to the ISS using an unmanned version of Dragon, but it is working on adapting the vehicle so that it can carry people as well.


This involves installing life-support systems and developing the necessary emergency procedures to protect astronauts should anything go wrong on launch. To that end, SpaceX is working on abort technologies that would lift the capsule away from its rocket during flight, allowing it to drop safely back to Earth via parachutes.


Mr Reisman, who himself flew twice to the space station as a Nasa astronaut, said the company would conduct an important test of these abort procedures later this year. This would involve putting a Dragon on top of one of its Falcon rockets on the launch pad and then firing the capsule's own thrusters to push it clear into the sky. This demonstration would be followed later in 2014 by an in-flight abort test.

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