The SpaceX Gears Up for Orbital Flight
Space pioneer Elon Musk expect to put his name in the history books once again next week, with the planned launch and recovery of the first commercially function spacecraft from orbit. But to make this point, his closely held company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., previously has managed to overcome regulatory hurdles never before encountered by the aerospace industry. And federal documents free on Friday underscore the bureaucratic complexities and huge technical risks confronting the pioneering effort. In June, SpaceX, as the company is recognized, launched its 18-story Falcon 9 rocket and successfully flew it for more than nine minutes. It was the first privately fund U.S. rocket launch in decades.

This week's scheduled mission to launch and return an unmanned, reusable Dragon pill from low earth orbit, predictable to last for hours, poses many more challenges. Placing the vehicle into a such an orbit at speeds more than 17,000 miles per hour, then maneuvering through a fiery reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean will need a flawless trajectory, a dependable heat shield and finally, perfect operation of the superfluous parachutes, according to space experts. Based on a ground test finished Saturday, SpaceX said blastoff could occur as early as Tuesday. In an October interview, Mr. Musk said "the likelihood of us receiving everything right "may be no added than 50% on the first try. Considering the difficulty of both the launch and the reentry, he said, in the end "the possibility of mission success may be less than that."

In addition to the stake for SpaceX, the flight will amount to a unique public test of President Barack Obama's controversial effort to use NASA to fund and care for a variety of such commercial spacecraft. The policy continues to face resistance from many lawmakers, established aerospace contractors and even some Air Force officials concerned about relying too heavily on untested private rockets and spacecraft to replace the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's reserved fleet of space shuttles. But a successful reentry would propel Mr. Musk, a former Internet capitalist who has invested more than $100 million of his personal chance in the scrappy startup, further into the guide for such ventures.

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