FILE PHOTO: The SpaceX headquarters is shown in Hawthorne, California, U.S. September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – NASA gave its final go-ahead on Friday to billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX company to conduct its first unmanned test flight of a newly designed crew capsule to the International Space Station on March 2.
The approval cleared a key hurdle for SpaceX in its quest to help NASA revive America’s human spaceflight program, stalled since space shuttle missions came to an end in 2011.
NASA has awarded SpaceX $2.6 billion, and aerospace rival Boeing Co $4.2 billion to build separate rocket and capsule launch systems to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the space station, an orbital research laboratory that flies 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.
“Following a full day of briefings and discussion, NASA and SpaceX are proceeding with plans to conduct the first uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon on a mission to the International Space Station,” NASA said in a statement announcing its decision.
Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown