SpaceX has made supply runs to the International Space Station under a NASA contract. Now it's eyeing carrying astronauts to low-Earth orbit. NASA is depending on private companies to fill the void left by the retirement of its space shuttle fleet.
Here are five things to know about SpaceX:
WHAT IS ITS HISTORY?
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, was founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk, who made his fortune from the sale of PayPal. It's headquartered in the city of Hawthorne in southwestern Los Angeles County near Los Angeles International Airport. SpaceX, which employs more than 3,000 people, builds rockets, unmanned capsules and manned spacecraft. Musk also heads Tesla Motors, which makes electric cars, and SolarCity, which designs and installs solar panels.
(Caption: The cabin of The Dragon V2 is seen after SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils The Dragon V2 on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California.)
WHAT IS DRAGON?
SpaceX's Dragon became the first private spacecraft to deliver supplies to the International Space Station in 2012 and return to Earth. Up until then, only governments completed the feat. Since then, the unmanned capsule has made three more trips under contract with NASA. The version which will carry a crew is dubbed Dragon V2.
(Caption: Elon Musk sits with guests inside the Manned Dragon V2 Space Taxi.)
HOW DOES DRAGON V2 DIFFER FROM THE UNMANNED VERSION?
In order for astronauts to fly on the Dragon, SpaceX made tweaks and upgrades including the development of life support systems and an escape system designed to help astronauts get out of harm's way during liftoff and the trip to orbit.
(Caption: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's new manned spacecraft, The Dragon V2.)
WHO ARE SPACEX'S COMPETITORS?
Besides SpaceX, Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and Blue Origin are developing "space taxis" with the goal of flying astronauts by 2017. John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, said SpaceX and Boeing have made the most progress.
(Caption: The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft docked to the International Space Station and was photographed by one of two spacewalking astronauts on April 22, 2014. On Sunday, May 18, 2014, after a one-month visit, the SpaceX cargo ship was for return to Earth. The astronauts released it using the International Space Station's big robot arm.)
DOES SPACEX WANT TO STOP AT LOW-EARTH ORBIT?
Musk has repeatedly said he wants to see humans settle Mars and become a "multi-planet species." To achieve that, he predicts it will require the development of a next-generation rocket that boasts a methane-based propulsion system.
(Caption: SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft splashing down after it successfully completed the CRS 3 mission for NASA, landing safely on May 18, 2014, in the Pacific Ocean with 3,500 pounds of ISS cargo.)