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Private company to send unmanned capsule to space station

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WASHINGTON — SpaceX will fly its Dragon capsule on an unmanned mission to the International Space Station in February, marking the first-ever bid by a private company to dock at the orbiting lab, NASA said Friday.

The fly-by and berthing mission are scheduled for February 7, 2012, the US space agency said in a statement.

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“SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

“We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory.”

SpaceX — owned by Elon Musk, Internet entrepreneur and founder of PayPal — in December last year became the first commercial outfit to send its Dragon spacecraft into orbit and back.

The effort is part of a running competition between private companies including Boeing and Sierra Nevada to be the first to create a spacecraft capable of replacing the US space shuttle which retired earlier this year.

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The first manned mission by a private company is not expected until around 2015, and in the meantime the world’s astronauts must pay Russia for rides to the ISS aboard its Soyuz spacecraft.

Gerstenmaier cautioned that “a significant amount of critical work” remains before launch and warned that the date may be adjusted “as needed to gain sufficient understanding of test and analysis results.”

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However, Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s program manager of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, said SpaceX is “on the forefront of demonstrating how a partnership between the government and private industry can lead to new capabilities.”

The main goals of the February flight include a fly-by of the ISS at a distance of two miles, and a berthing operation in which Dragon will approach the ISS and the crew aboard the orbiting outpost will use the ISS robotic arm to help it latch on.

“The spacecraft also will demonstrate the capability to abort the rendezvous, if required,” the NASA statement said.

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After the test mission, the ISS crew will “reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California.”

If the operation to rendezvous and berth at the station are not a success, SpaceX will attempt it again in a new test flight “in order to achieve these objectives as originally planned.”

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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