SpaceX cleared for cargo run to space station

3/01/2013
A rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies was poised for launch to deliver a capsule filled with food, supplies and science  experiments to the International Space Station.
Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule from the company's leased launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, was set for 10:10 a.m.
Meteorologists predicted an 80 percent chance of good weather for the launch.
The cargo run will be the second of 12 missions for privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX as the company is known, under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.
Following a successful test flight to the space station in May 2012, SpaceX conducted its first supply run to the orbital outpost in October. A second space freighter, built by Orbital Science s Corp., is expected to debut this year.
NASA turned to private companies to ferry supplies to the Space Station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations, following the retirement of its shuttle fleet in 2011.
Staffed by rotating crews of six, the orbiting laboratory flies about 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth.
With the shuttles grounded, NASA plans to hire private firms to fly astronauts as well as cargo, breaking Russia's monopoly on crew transport that costs more than $60 million per trip.
Mandatory government spending cuts set to go into effect Friday do not impact space station operations or supply runs, said NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini.
The cutbacks, however, implemented under the so-called 'sequestration' initiative, will slow development of privately owned space taxis.
NASA currently has partnership agreements worth more than $1.1 billion through May 2014 with SpaceX, Boeing Co. and privately owned Sierra Nevada Corp. to develop passenger spacecraft.
Under the expected budget cuts, NASA would effectively halt space taxi development work this summer.
"Overall availability of commercial crew transportation services would be significantly delayed, thereby extending our reliance on foreign providers for crew transportation to the International Space Station," NASA administration Charles Bolden wrote in a letter last month to Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski.
Under sequestration, NASA expects its $17.8 billion budget to drop to $16.9 billion, Bolden said.
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