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Initial indications from Sunday’s critical “in-flight abort” test show that SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft has blasted over the last hurdle required before launching astronauts from United States territory, according to both Elon Musk, the company’s founder, and NASA.

“It was a picture-perfect mission,” Musk said at a post-test news conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Obviously I’m super fired up. This is great!”

Musk announced his space company could send a two-person NASA crew to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as April.

“The sort of collective wisdom at this point is that we’re highly confident that the hardware will be ready in Q1 [first quarter], most likely the end of February, but no later than March. And that we think that it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter,” Musk said.

If Musk is right, when the Crew Dragon takes astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the ISS, it will be the first time since the 2011 decommissioning of the Space Shuttle programme, thatUS citizenshave launched into space from the US. It will also be the first time that NASA is a customer paying for transportation services provided by a US commercial entity.

NASA has paid up through 2020 an average of $85.4m a seat to Roscosmos, formerly known as Russia’s Federal Space Agency, to send its astronauts on 70 completed and planned missions to the ISS onboard Soyuz rockets. According to a NASA Inspector General report released last year, a SpaceX seat will cost the American taxpayer roughly $55m.

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