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SpaceX to webcast Falcon 9 test firing in preparation for next week's scheduled launch of Dragon capsule

December 2, 2010 | 10:03 am


Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the Hawthorne-based rocket venture better known as SpaceX, plans to webcast the test firing of its Falcon 9 rocket engines in preparation for the landmark launch of its Dragon space capsule, scheduled for next week.

In the trial run at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the rocket's nine engines will fire at full power for two seconds, with only a hold-down system restraining the rocket from flight.

The webcast is set to begin on the company's website Friday at 5 a.m. PST. The test firing is scheduled for 6 a.m. PST.

After the test, SpaceX engineers will go through the data obtained and make final preparations for the scheduled Dec. 7 maiden launch of the Dragon capsule, which is being designed to carry cargo and crew for NASA.

In the test launch, the Dragon capsule will be affixed to a Falcon 9; the rocket made its first flight in June from Cape Canaveral. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth, reenter the atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

If successful, it will mark the first time a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit.

The Dragon capsule is considered a contender for the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station after the space shuttle program is retired in 2011.

NASA has already awarded SpaceX $1.6 billion in contracts to transport cargo to the International Space Station on the Dragon, starting as early as next year.

SpaceX employs more than 1,100 people, most in California. The firm makes its rockets in a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the fuselage assembly for Boeing Co.'s 747 jumbo jet.


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-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: A SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket lifts off at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in June. Credit: Matt Stroshane / Getty Images