SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft to orbit on Tuesday as part of a mission that would make it the first commercial company to attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
The rocket built by Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies, also known as, SpaceX, took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:44 a.m. EST. Dragon heads toward the ISS on a journey in which it will be subjected to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to dock with the station, the company said.
It was not immediately clear who insures SpaceX, the launch or its payload, which reportedly includes the ashes of actor James Doohan, best known for portraying Scotty on the original “Star Trek” television series in the 1960s. Doohan’s ashes are being carried along with the remains of roughly 300 others as part of a secondary mission being carried out under contract with Houston, Texas-based space memorial firm Celestis.
According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration spokesman Joshua Byerly the Federal Aviation Administration governs third party liability requirements, and according to FAA regulations third party liability insurance is required for the calculated maximum probable loss.
“These values are defined and agreed to between the FAA and SpaceX,” Byerly said in an email replying to a reporter’s questions. “NASA does not have any insurance requirements. We have cross waivers of liability negotiated in our Space Act Agreements and cargo contracts which covers the terms between NASA, SpaceX, and our International Partners. NASA also self insures our cargo.”
Spokespersons for SpaceX in Hawthorne and in Washington, D.C. did not return calls or emails seeking comment on Tuesday.
A mission to send the first unmanned commercial spacecraft to ISS was aborted just prior to liftoff on Saturday when a computer detected high pressure in one of the engines five, which was possibly caused by a fuel valve malfunction
So far only government spacecraft have reached ISS. This is the first attempt by a private concern. If NASA decides to allow the craft to dock with ISS, the date set for the attempt is May 21
The 1,014 payload being carried by the Dragon spacecraft includes food, clothing and pantry items for the ISS crew.
On its return trip, scheduled for May 31, it will bring back over 1,000 pounds of payload, including science experiments.
The closely held company is led by billionaire Elon Musk, a South American born businessman who co-founded the predecessor to Paypal. He was also co-founder of Tesla Motors.
In 2010, SpaceX became the first commercial company in history to put a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely to Earth. With the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft may be the heir apparent to carry cargo, and one day astronauts, to and from the ISS for NASA.
The company has over 1,800 employees in California, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Florida.