NASA Schedules First SpaceX Flight for February 2012

The organization said it has allowed SpaceX launch its Dragon spacecraft for a "rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in a single flight." If successful, SpaceX will become the first commercial company whose vehicle will connect with the ISS.

SpaceX, which has received $376 million in funding from NASA so far, plans to conduct a series of system checks, an ISS fly-by, as well as a rendezvous abort-procedure. Dragon is also expected to connect with the ISS via the station's robotic arm and then return to Earth for a splashdown off the coast of California. If everything goes according to plan, SpaceX will run a third demonstration flight for NASA.

NASA said that SpaceX is entitled to $20 million of additional funding, should the company deliver the remaining four of a total of 40 milestones set under the COTS program. Orbital Sciences Corporation, NASA's other COTS partner, has received $261.5 million in funding for 23 of 29 delivered milestones. Orbital will get another $26.5 million for the remaining milestones.

Under the contract with NASA, SpaceX is designing and building the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spaceship. Orbital is developing the Taurus II launch vehicle and the Cygnus visiting vehicle.

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