SpaceX, private space flight steps up its game for NASA

SpaceX could launch Nov. 30 and dock its Dragon ship with the space station nine days later.

Just a few weeks ago it looked like NASA astronauts would have to hitch a ride on the Russian Soyuz craft if it was going to get to the International Space Station. Now the private sector is changing that equation.

Earlier this week, SpaceX gave an update on its Dragon spacecraft. The company noted that it could launch Nov. 30 and dock its Dragon ship with the space station nine days later.

SpaceX said:

NASA has agreed in principle to allow SpaceX to combine all of the tests and demonstration activities that we originally proposed as two separate missions (COTS Demo 2 and COTS Demo 3) into a single mission. Furthermore, SpaceX plans to carry additional payloads aboard the Falcon 9’s second stage which will deploy after Dragon separates and is well on its way to the ISS. NASA will grant formal approval for the combined COTS missions pending resolution of any potential risks associated with these secondary payloads. Our team continues to work closely with NASA to resolve all questions and concerns.

For SpaceX, which is betting that the private sector can play a big role in the space race, the space station docking is a big step. For NASA, the SpaceX developments are also a big deal. NASA has taken some heat for shelving the Space Shuttle program without a backup plan.

SpaceX indicated that it is currently testing dragon and on track for a launch later this year. The Dragon craft re-entered from an orbit test run in December.

Related: NASA preps last Shuttle flight: Can the U.S. really endure a manned space hiatus?

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