Johannesburg - Next month a private company will for the first time launch a space capsule and orbit the Earth – and a born and bred South African is the brains behind the project.
South African-born Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has received the green light from the National
Aeronautics and Space Agency (Nasa) to undertake a space flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
Nasa entered into a $1.6bn contract with the company for a minimum of 12 space flights, with the option of performing further missions.
There is a strong possibility that SpaceX will be ready to undertake its first space flight to the ISS at the beginning of next month.
This could happen as soon as February 7, according to Nasa, if SpaceX’s spacecraft complies with all Nasa’s standards for orbiting commercial space flights.
At the end of last year Musk, the company’s CEO, said in a press statement that the first test flight by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule had gone very well.
This had involved the Dragon capsule having to successfully disengage itself from the Falcon 9 rocket, enter the atmosphere and thereafter, using a parachute, come down on the Pacific Ocean.
Musk is optimistic that the next two tests will be equally successful and that his company will meet the target date.
For the next test flight, the Dragon capsule must be manned. Astronauts need to anchor the capsule to the ISS, open the ISS, transfer cargo and then bring the cargo back to Earth.
The capsule should land in the Pacific Ocean along the California coastline.
If the Dragon capsule can execute this task, SpaceX could later this year begin to undertake regular space flights to the space station.
Nasa hopes for two flights in 2013 and three in 2014.
In 2008 SpaceX received permission from Nasa to develop commercial rockets with which it can send occasional cargo or even space travellers to and from the ISS. At the time, the contract was concluded with a view to the closure of Nasa’s space shuttle programme last year.
Musk established SpaceX in 2002 and the company has for some time been performing space flights and space launches.