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SpaceX rocket and capsule vertical on launch pad at Cape Canaveral

At a launch pad in Cape Canaveral atop a towering 18-story rocket sits a spaceship that NASA officials hope will be the first privately built craft to dock with the International Space Station.

The gumdrop-shaped space capsule was slated to begin its historic mission earlier this year. But Hawthorne rocket venture Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the company that manufactures the spacecraft, said more engineering work was needed before blast off.

The company, better known as SpaceX, posted a photo Wednesday on its Twitter account of the Dragon capsule and its Falcon 9 rocket sitting vertical at its launch complex. The rocket is surrounded by 300-foot lightning towers.

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SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Elon Musk said that a launch isn’t likely until late April. But, according to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, the company carried out a test countdown and fueling Thursday -- performing all the normal procedures as if it were an actual launch without actually firing the engine.

Neither NASA nor SpaceX has given a firm launch date.

The mission has been more than a year in the making since Space X became the first private company to blast a spacecraft into Earth’s orbit and have it return intact in December 2010.

The company’s goal was to get to the space station less than a year later, but that mission has been repeatedly pushed back.

SpaceX makes the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket at a sprawling facility in Hawthorne where fuselages for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet were once assembled. The hardware is then sent by big rig to the Florida for launch.

The company already has a $1.6-billion NASA contract for 12 flights to deliver cargo to the space station. If the upcoming rendezvous mission is successful, the company would start in earnest to fulfill the contract.

SpaceX wants to rendezvous with the space station to demonstrate that it is the clear front-runner to take over the lucrative responsibility of ferrying supplies -- and possibly carrying astronauts -- to the space station for NASA now that the space shuttle has been retired.

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