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

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

Perched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon capsule is designed to enter Earth’s orbit, connect with the ISS and allow delivery of food and supplies to the space station’s weightless occupants. Then it will disengage and -- its inventors hope -- return safely to Earth.

Should private space flights become mainstream, “It will help keep costs down, and in the long run make things more efficient,” astronomer Ben Burris told NBC.

That could mean a big economic boost for Southern California. Currently, more than 1,000 people are employed in SpaceX’s Hawthorn facility.

This weekend’s launch from Cape Canaveral is scheduled for early Saturday morning at 1:55 a.m. Pacific time.