Hawthorne-based SpaceX launches

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spacex Hawthorne based SpaceX launches

(AP Image)

(CNS) – A rocket manufactured by a Hawthorne-based company soared into orbit today for a mission that will make the firm the first private company to send a spaceship to the International Space Station.

Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9 rocket blasted off at 12:44 a.m. Pacific time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying a Dragon spacecraft. The company, known as SpaceX, will conduct a series of tests on the craft while it is in orbit to ensure it is prepared to dock with the space station.

“We obviously have to go through a number of steps to berth with the space station, but everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer.

The rocket was originally expected to take off Saturday, but the launch was aborted when a flight computer detected high pressure in one of the engines.

The flight was planned under the auspices of a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services agreement between SpaceX and NASA aimed at developing the capability to transport cargo to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX conducted a test flight in December 2010, when the company became the first commercial firm to send a spacecraft into low-Earth orbit and recover it successfully.

If the Dragon test is successful, and the craft is able to dock with space station, SpaceX will begin what is expected to be more than a dozen flights to the station to transport cargo in the post-space shuttle era.

SpaceX officials said the Dragon craft is also designed to carry astronauts, but only cargo missions are planned so far.

The Dragon spacecraft was expected to reach the station by Friday.

“This mission heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one in which there is a significant commercial space element,” Musk said. “It is like the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s when commercial companies entered what was originally a government endeavor. That move dramatically accelerated the pace of advancement and made the Internet accessible to the mass market.

“I think we’re at a similar inflection point for space. I hope and I believe that this mission will be historic in marking that turning point towards a rapid advancement in space transportation technology,” he said.

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