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SpaceX passes key design and safety reviews

Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule transport system has passed its critical design review (CDR), held during the week starting 27 August. The CDR is a milestone SpaceX had to complete as part of its Commercial Orbital Space Transportation Services demonstration (COTS) programme agreement with NASA. The COTS programme is being considered by NASA as a means of supplying the ISS after the Space Shuttle fleet is decommissioned.

For COTS, SpaceX has three demonstration flights, with the third being a full cargo mission profile including docking to ISS, albeit with an empty capsule. By 29 August SpaceX had also completed phase one of three phases of its cargo mission safety review for NASA's Safety Review Panel for its International Space Station programme. The review covered 23 hazards, with extra attention paid to possible collision between Dragon and the ISS.

"Phase two is in process and then we will have the third phase," says SpaceX.

The Dragon capsule, which will also have a manned variant, will deliver more than 2,500kg (5,500lb) to resupply the ISS.

Falcon 9's first COTS demonstration launch is planned for the fourth quarter of 2008, and is one of three flights for the rocket scheduled for that period. The other two are a SpaceX qualifying flight and a commercial mission carrying a payload for Canada's MDA corporation. The second and third COTS demonstration flights are planned in quick succession for the second and third quarters of 2009.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 will be able to launch, to a geostationary orbit (GTO), 5,070kg from its Kwajalein Atoll complex in the Pacific Ocean and 4,900kg from Cape Canaveral. Falcon 9 has seven launches manifested and all the flights are set to take place from the Cape. There is a Falcon 9 heavy version planned that could place 12,000kg into GTO.

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