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SpaceX's Dragon capsule Mars lander

Nasa confirms SpaceX will be the first private company to carry its astronauts

Image credit: Space X

Nasa has confirmed that Elon Musk’s SpaceX will be the first commercial company to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon spacecraft is being prepared for the company’s first flight test with astronauts to the ISS as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Programme.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket with Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from historic Launch Complex 39A from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The spacecraft is currently undergoing final testing and prelaunch processing in a SpaceX facility on nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The news is not good for Boeing and its Starliner spacecraft which was beset by numerous software failures for its orbital test flight in December.

An anomaly with its clock caused the spacecraft to burn into an incorrect orbit, preventing a rendezvous with the ISS.

The mission was planned to be an eight-day test flight of the spacecraft but this was truncated to just two following the mishap. Another critical bug was revealed after completion of the mission which could have prevented a safe landing if it could not have been fixed during the flight.

Boeing was also awarded $5.1bn from Nasa to develop the capsule compared to just $3.1bn for SpaceX.

Capable of carrying up to seven passengers to and from Earth’s orbit, the pressurised section of the Dragon capsule is designed to carry both people and environmentally sensitive cargo.

Towards the base of the capsule and contained within the nose cone are the Draco thrusters, which allow for orbital manoeuvring.

Last year the Dragon was sent up to the ISS to ensure that the docking procedure with the station was sound.

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