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Cabs to the cosmos: NASA awards $1.1 billion to 'space taxi' development

Boeing Space Craft

AP Photo/Boeing

This undated artist illustration provided by Boeing shows the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100, comprised of a Crew Module and a Service Module, leverages Apollo-proven aerodynamic characteristics in a design employing modern, cost effective technologies.

Space Shuttle Private

AP Photo/Sierra Nevada Space Systems

This artist's rendering provided by Sierra Nevada Space Systems shows the company's proposed Dream Chaser spacecraft docking with the International Space Station.

Private Space

AP Photo/SpaceX

This computer generated image provided by SpaceX shows their Dragon supply spacecraft with solar panels deployed.

NASA announced Friday that Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or Space X, will receive $440 million toward developing small spaceships to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

Space X, founded by billionaire PayPal co-creator and Tesla Motors head, Elon Musk, was one of three aerospace companies named to develop the ferrying flying machines. Boeing was also selected to receive $460 million, and Sierra Nevada Corp. won a contract worth $212.5 million.   

"We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement.

Together, the winners will share more than $1.1 billion as part of NASA's efforts to get private companies to do what the space shuttle no longer does. Currently, the U.S. space agency relies on Russia for ISS transport at the cost of about $63 million per astronaut.


SpaceX 'Dragon' wings back to Earth, splashes down in the Pacific


Photo credit: ESA/NASA

SpaceX "Dragon" smoothly undocked, moved out, released and on its way home on May 31, 2012.

Six hours after departing the International Space Station, the now legendary SpaceX "Dragon" parachuted back to its home planet and splashed into the Pacific Ocean. 

The unmanned cargo ship, returing from space with nearly 1,400 pounds of old gear, was launched last week by Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies, or "SpaceX," making history as the first private rocket company to fly cargo to the International Space Station.  

NASA, having made its last space shuttle flight earlier this year, is now relying on private companies like Space X to make those space runs. The world's first commercial supply ship was let loose by astronauts on Thursday after a five-day visit to the final frontier. 

Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers described the experience via Twitter, writing that "Dragon smoothly undocked, moved out, released and on its way home."


SpaceX catches malfunction, delays launch of Dragon capsule until early Tuesday


A NASA rendering of SpaceX's Dragon capsule as it prepares to berth with the International Space Station.

For those wondering what became of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which was scheduled to launch last weekend and berth with the International Space Station: There was a minor malfunction.

But it’s no big deal, and the spacecraft is now scheduled to launch early Tuesday morning, the Hawthorne-based company said.

“Today’s launch was aborted when the flight computer detected slightly high pressure in the engine 5 combustion chamber,” the company said in a brief statement on Saturday. “We have discovered root cause and repairs are underway.”

CBS says the company has fixed the problem, and liftoff is rescheduled for 3:44 a.m. Eastern time -- which is 12:44 a.m. here.

Perched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon capsule is designed to blast off into Earth’s orbit, connect with the ISS and dock, allowing delivery of food and supplies to the space station’s occupants. Then if all goes according to plan, it will disengage and return to Earth.


Hawthorne’s SpaceX readies for liftoff of world’s first commercial-only spacecraft


The Dragon capsule, developed and built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX.

It is T-minus two days and counting till liftoff of the first-ever privately developed spacecraft to visit the International Space Station -- and all of it was built inside a space hangar near you.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX has been working on its Dragon capsule for several years now, and this weekend, if all goes well, will be its first visit to the ISS as it orbits Earth.

Scientists and space enthusiasts say a lot is riding on the upcoming flight, since it is sure to weigh heavily on prospects of future commercial-only space flights. SpaceX, founded by PayPal mogul Elon Musk in 2002, is a privately held company, and many hope it will fill the vacuum left by NASA’s recently ended space program.

The Dragon was taken for a spin in late 2010, circling the planet and returning safely, making SpaceX “the only commercial company to successfully return a spacecraft from orbit,” according to the company’s website. But this weekend marks the true test.