Hawthorne-based rocket venture Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or
SpaceX, is planning to send a rocket to dock with the International Space Station later this year — a test mission that takes the company one step closer to cashing in on a $1.6-billion contract with NASA.
In a statement, SpaceX revealed that the space agency has approved an unmanned mission in which its Dragon space capsule would dock with the space station.
“NASA has given us a Nov. 30, 2011, launch date, which should be followed nine days later by Dragon berthing at the ISS,” the company said.
For the record: A previous version of this article incorrectly said the mission would deliver cargo. It is a docking test mission.
SpaceX makes the Dragon capsule and 18-story Falcon 9 rocket at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the fuselage assembly for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet. The hardware is put on a big rig and sent to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for launches.
In December, SpaceX became the first private company to blast a spacecraft into Earth’s orbit and have it return intact. The unmanned flight was intended to show NASA that SpaceX could handle the task of carrying cargo into space.
If it pulls off a trip to the space station, it will be the clear front-runner take over the responsibility of running cargo missions and possibly carrying astronauts to the space station for NASA, now that the space shuttle is retired.
SpaceX already has a $1.6-billion contract to haul cargo in 12 flights to the space station for NASA. If the November mission is successful, the company would start in earnest to fulfill the contract.
“This next mission represents a huge milestone not only for SpaceX, but also for NASA and the U.S. space program,” the company said.
While nearly everyone’s eyes were on the final space shuttle flight in July, SpaceX engineers and technicians at Cape Canaveral were readying the rocket that will lift the cargo capsule into orbit.
The rocket has two successful test launches.