SpaceX, the upstart company, and NASA, the government agency, both have plans to venture to Mars and orbit the moon. But that doesn’t mean they’ve launched a new space race.
In fact, NASA has long been SpaceX’s most important customer, providing contracts to deliver cargo and eventually astronauts to the International Space Station. And the Hawthorne company will need NASA’s technical support to achieve the first of its grand ambitions in deep space.
A major milestone for the partnership came in 2012 when SpaceX launched its first NASA cargo load, making it the first private company to send a spacecraft to the space station.
Marco Caceres, senior space analyst at the Teal Group, said the NASA supply missions gave SpaceX “almost instant credibility."
"Having NASA as an anchor client allowed them to have enough revenue flow so that they could establish themselves and eventually diversify and get some commercial contracts and eventually to be able to get into the military establishment,” he said.
Today, SpaceX and Boeing Co. are developing separate crew capsules as part of NASA contracts to transport astronauts to the space station.
SpaceX noted that this NASA program provided most of the funding to develop the Dragon 2 spacecraft, which will make the moon trip. It is planning to conduct the first test flight of the Dragon crew capsule in November, followed by a flight test with humans in May 2018.
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