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SpaceX Looks to Close U.S. Spaceflight 'Gap'

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 & Dragon spacecraft launching from Cape Canaveral, artist’s illustration.
An illustration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft lifting off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, FL. (Image credit: SpaceX)

ByDecember, SpaceX plans to bring a nine-engine rocket to Cape Canaveral thatcompany officials believe could be one of the next spacecraft to carry cargo tothe International Space Station.

SpaceX hopes this andfuture rockets can fill the gap between the end of theshuttle program and the start of flights under NASA's Constellationprogram.

"We plan to deliverand close that gap," Brian G. Mosdell, the SpaceX director of FloridaLaunch Operations, told the National Space Club in Cocoa Beach Tuesday.

The company, which has failedto orbit a rocket in three tries, has contracts for seven launches fromComplex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The company's first Falcon 9rocket is under construction in Los Angeles. After arriving in December, it isexpected to launch during the first quarter of 2009.

After demolishing an oldlaunch tower at Launch Complex 40, the company has installed propellant tanksand plans to complete a 225-foot by 75-foot hangar to assemble the rocket,which will be raised to vertical at the launch pad.

Space Florida, the stateentity formed to support the commercial space industry, has given SpaceX morethan $1 million in cash and in-kind support, including office space, surplus fueltanks and administrative support.

Space Florida so far hasbeen undaunted by SpaceX'srecord of failure during launches from Kwajalein in the central Pacific.

"The success of SpaceXis success for all of us," said Space Florida spokeswoman Deb Spicer."It will be good for all of us for them to succeed."

The company of 500 has only25 employees working at the Cape.

"We're working toexpand in support of our launch operations," said Mosdell.

"We've really madegreat progress with our band of 25."

The low-cost commercialFalcon 9 rocket has the same capability as the Delta 4 and the Atlas 5, saidMosdell.

International events havemade SpaceX's success important. Due to politicalfallout from Russia's conflict in Georgia, NASA might not be able to buyflights on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. NASA might find it necessary to continueflying the shuttle or rely on commercial rockets developed by the CommercialOrbital Transportation Services program, under which NASA is partially fundingSpaceX and another company to build experimental rockets.

"Everyone's aware ofthe political sensitivity (of relying on the Russians)," Mosdell said."That's just not the best solution."

Published under license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2008FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any way withoutthe written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.



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