Plans are in place for SpaceX to launch its Falcon 9 demonstrator in NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) programme on 7 December from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Though the company and NASA have identified an approximately three-and-a-half launch window from 9:00 to 12:22 EST, the same window is also available on 8 and 9 December, if weather or technical problems do not permit a Tuesday launch.

The second mission for Falcon 9 will also mark a series of firsts: the first trip to space for the Dragon spacecraft, the first flight under a NASA demonstration program helping to develop new commercial vehicles and the first time the FAA has issued a re-entry license to a commercial company to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit. The test is also the first of three 2011 launches planned for the Falcon 9, intended to prove the structural integrity of the Dragon spacecraft, on-orbit operation, re-entry, descent and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

 Dragon capsule

 © SpaceX

NASA's COTS programme is supposed to be spurring growth in the commercial space industry and facilitate the birth of a private space cargo industry. After the space shuttle fleet's planned retirement next year, NASA will be reliant on the commercial side and the Russian Soyuz programme to deliver supplies and new crews to the International Space Station. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 cargo delivery missions; rival Orbital Sciences landed a $1.9 billion deal for eight missions and is currently planning a 2011 test flight of its Taurus II rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

Source: Flight International