SpaceX is one of two companies that built and tested new cargo spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. SpaceX completed its final demonstration test flight in May, becoming the first commercial company ever to launch, rendezvous and be docked to the International Space Station. Orbital Sciences is the other company participating in COTS. Orbital's Antares launch vehicle is on the launch pad at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in advance of a hot fire test of the Antares first-stage engines. A flight test of the Antares with a simulated Cygnus spacecraft and a demonstration flight of Cygnus to the space station are planned for 2013.
With commercial cargo flights to the space station under way in 2012, NASA took the next steps in the effort to launch Americans from U.S. soil again. The agency announced in August new agreements with three American commercial companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from the United States in the next five years.
Advances made by these companies under Space Act Agreements through the agency's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers. The CCiCap partners are the Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and The Boeing Company.
CCiCap is an initiative of NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and an administration priority. The objective of the CCP is to facilitate the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. Between now and May 31, 2014, NASA's partners will perform tests and mature integrated designs. This would then set the stage for a future activity that will launch crewed orbital demonstration missions to low-Earth orbit by the middle of the decade.http://www.nasa.gov/commercial SPACE STATION FULLY OPERATIONAL WITH NEW RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY TESTING NASA and its international partners celebrated 12 years of permanent human habitation on the International Space Station on Nov. 2. More than 1,500 research and technology development experiments have been conducted aboard the orbiting lab -- more than 200 of them this year alone -- many of which are producing advances in medicine, environmental systems and our understanding of the universe. Human research studies, including new research announced in August, have shown that using the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device for high-intensity workouts aboard the orbiting laboratory, in combination with proper diets, helps astronauts lose less bone density during their stay. This could have profound effects on future space exploration, as well as the aging population on Earth. Plant-growth studies are often on the menu, as the ability to grow plants in microgravity would allow for fresh food, oxygen generation and carbon dioxide removal. This research also could help improve crop production on the ground.