Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has won a $440-million contract with NASA to develop the successor to the Space Shuttle and transport American astronauts into space.
"This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration," said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.
"SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown."
SpaceX expects to undertake its first manned flight by 2015 – a timetable that capitalises on the proven success of the company's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft combination. While Dragon is initially being used to transport cargo to the International Space Station, both Dragon and Falcon 9 were designed from the beginning to carry crew.
The partnership will result in a spacecraft capable of carrying up to seven astronauts as well as a comprehensive escape system in the event of a malfunction.
South African-born Musk is also the co-founder of PayPal and the CEO of Tesla Motors.