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SpaceX Plan to Send Astronauts to Space Station Gets NASA’s OK

SpaceX's Dragon capsule is one step closer to flying astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceX has passed NASA's "certification baseline review," which required the California-based company to outline exactly how it plans to ferry crews to and from the orbiting lab using the Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket under SpaceX's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract with the space agency.

"This milestone sets the pace for the rigorous work ahead as SpaceX meets the certification requirements outlined in our contract," Kathryn Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said in a statement. "It is very exciting to see SpaceX's proposed path to certification, including a flight test phase and completion of the system development."

NASA awards space taxi contracts 0:29

The Commercial Crew Program has been encouraging the development of private American spacecraft, with the aim of returning astronauts into space from U.S. soil by 2017 or so. NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to do this work since the space shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011.

NASA has tapped SpaceX and Boeing to provide this orbital taxi service; the space agency awarded both companies multibillion-dollar contracts last September to complete work on the vehicles. (Boeing is also developing a capsule, which the aerospace giant calls the CST-100.)

Separately, the U.S. Air Force said on Wednesday it expects to certify SpaceX to compete for satellite launches no later than mid-2015, pushing back its original target date by six months. United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, is at present the only firm certified for such launches.

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com and also includes information from Reuters. Read the full report. Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or Space.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

— Elizabeth Howell, Space.com