The first launch of SpaceX's unmanned commercial cargo ship to the International Space Station has been delayed, officials confirmed on Friday.
The company says it needs to conduct further testing on the spacecraft, known as the Dragon, and that consequently the launch, originally slated for Feb. 7, will not take place before late March. A new date for the run, however, has not been set.
Since the United States discontinued its shuttle program last summer, the International Space Station (ISS) has relied on Russian, Japanese and European government agencies to continue supplies deliveries to the $100 billion orbiting research platform. SpaceX is one of the first private companies, along with Orbital Sciences Corp, hired by NASA to take on a similar role.
Initiated by SpaceX in 2005, the Dragon was selected to complete 12 cargo flights to the ISS in a $1.6 billion contract awarded by NASA in 2008. In December 2010, the spacecraft was successfully launched into orbit by a Falcon 9 rocket, after which it landed safely in the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first private spacecraft to accomplish such a feat.
In addition to providing cargo flights with the Dragon, SpaceX is working on reconfiguring the craft to carry crewmembers, and was granted a $75 million NASA contract in pursuit of the goal. Currently, the space agency relies on Russia to shuttle American astronauts to and from the ISS in rides that cost $60 million a pop.
SpaceX is one of a number of commercial space ventures making headway in the pursuit of private space travel in recent years. Just last month, Burt Rutan emerged from retirement with the announcement of a new space tourism company called Stratolaunch Systems launched in partnership with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. One the venture’s key goals is the construction of the largest aircraft ever, one capable of launching a 490,000-pound rocket into orbit from an altitude of 30,000 feet. According to the company, SpaceX will manufacture the multistage booster rocket.