According to Space.com, the two companies contracted by NASA to delivery cargo to the International Space Station are now preparing for their first launches.
One of the companies, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), was founded in 2002 by Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, and has made history twice with their Dragon spacecraft. The first time was in December 2010, as they became the first private spaceflight organization to launch a vehicle into orbit and then successfully recover it and the second was in May of this year as Dragon became the first private space vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. Over the weekend, they were running static launch tests of their Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, in preparation for their first delivery to the ISS on October 7th.
The other company, Orbital Sciences Corporation, has been in the space industry for around 30 years. They have made more than 60 launches of their own, 40 using their own Pegasus rocket, have delivered over 100 satellites into orbit and completed their 500th mission by 2006. On Monday, their Antares rocket arrived at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, off the coast of Virginia, to begin ground and flight testing. The first of the tests will begin in 4 to 6 weeks, with a hot-fire test of the first stage rocket engines, and then flight tests should begin about a month later.
With NASA and the U.S. government enduring criticisms about relying on foreign nations to ferry astronauts and cargo and from the International Space Station, these private companies are well on the way to making the United States self-sufficient for space operations again. Additionally, this could be what finally starts us down the road towards viable, affordable commercial space flights.
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