SpaceX Dragon passenger capsule due to get key test

Elon Musk: From space race to space war
Elon Musk: From space race to space war

SpaceX plans a flight for its Dragon space capsule this week, a key step towards its plans to carry astronauts for NASA by 2017.

The company run by Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk is one of two companies working to develop the next generation of space craft to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing (BA) is the other company working on a spacecraft.

SpaceX is already hauling supplies to the space station using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, but it has yet to carry passengers.

The test will won't put a human in the Dragon capsule. Instead, it will carry a dummy to monitor forces inside the capsule.

"This is what SpaceX was basically founded for, human spaceflight," said Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice president in a statement on NASA's Web site. "The [test flight] is going to show that we've developed a revolutionary system for the safety of the astronauts, and this test is going to show how it works."

The test flight will be launched from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday. It is designed to last a little less than two minutes and to end in a splash down for the capsule about a mile out in the Atlantic.

"The odds of encountering delays or issues are high," said a statement on SpaceX's site. "Fortunately the test doesn't need to be perfect to be valuable. Our primary objective is to capture as much data as possible."

SpaceX says its system provides greater safety for astronauts in case of a rocket malfunction than have previous manned spacecraft. It's designed to use eight rocket engines to get the capsule 100 meters away from the rocket in just two seconds and a half-kilometer away within five seconds. Unlike previous abort systems it can provide an escape anytime during the spacecraft's trip to orbit, rather than just in the first few minutes of the flight, as NASA's abort systems were designed to do.

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SpaceX said there is confusion over the flight dummy.

"Despite popular belief, his name is not Buster. Buster the Dummy already works for a great show you may have heard of called MythBusters," said SpaceX. "Our dummy prefers to remain anonymous for the time being."

SpaceX has also been performing tests trying to get its Falcon rocket to land upright on a platform in the middle of the ocean. It wants to be able create a reusable rocket in order to greatly reduce the cost of space flight.

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