LOS ANGELES (AP) — SpaceX, which has flown unmanned cargo capsules to the International Space Station, planned to unveil a new spacecraft Thursday designed to ferry astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
The Southern California-based rocket builder, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, is one of several private companies vying to develop "space taxis" for NASA to replace the retired space shuttle fleet.
The reveal will take place at SpaceX's headquarters near Los Angeles International Airport.
In a NASA briefing with reporters last year, Musk said the manned version would look futuristic like an "alien spaceship" with side-mounted thrusters, landings legs that pop out and large windows for astronauts to marvel at Earth's curvature.
"It's going to be cool," Musk said at the time.
Since the shuttle fleet retired in 2011, NASA has depended on Russian rockets to transport astronauts to orbit and back, paying nearly $71 million per seat. The space agency has said it wants U.S. companies to fill the void by 2017 and has doled out seed money to spur innovation.
SpaceX — short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — has made four cargo runs to the giant orbiting outpost some 200 miles above Earth. Just last month, its Dragon capsule splashed into the Pacific, returning nearly 2 tons of science experiments and old equipment.