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SpaceX Rocket Test Successful

December 5, 2010

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), one of two companies primed to take over space ferry duties to the International Space Station (ISS) once NASA retires its space shuttle program, test-fired a rocket on Saturday in preparation for a Tuesday launch, according to officials.

After two aborted test-fire attempts earlier on Saturday and on Friday due to problems, the rocket’s nine liquid oxygen and kerosene-burning engines were briefly ignited at 10:50 a.m. EST Saturday, after the issues had been resolved, the company said in a statement on its website.

SpaceX plans to launch the Falcon Rocket on Tuesday at 9:03 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a demonstration mission for NASA.

Officials said the goal of the flight is to put a Dragon capsule into space for a test run around Earth. After as many as four orbits, the capsule is expected to re-enter the planet’s atmosphere and parachute safely into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., worth an estimated $3.5 billion, to deliver cargo to the space station after the shuttles are retired next year. NASA is helping to pay for both firms to develop and test their rockets and capsules.

SpaceX also has plans to upgrade the Dragon capsule for passenger space transport.

SpaceX’s contract with NASA calls for up to three demonstration missions before it begins cargo missions to the ISS, the first of which is slated for December 2011.

The second test mission will include the Dragon rendezvousing with the station, and the third test mission will dock. Depending on the Dragon’s performance during its maiden test flight, the second and third missions could be combined into one, pending NASA’s approval.

Orbital Sciences plans to debut its Taurus 4 launcher next summer.

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