SpaceX is well on its way to becoming the first commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. Earlier this morning SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
While the Dragon orbits Earth a series of tests will be carried out on its GPS system and free drift and abort capabilities to determine if the spacecraft is ready to berth with the space station.
“We obviously have to go through a number of steps to berth with the space station, but everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.
If all goes well, by the end of the week, ISS Expedition 31 crew will use the ISS robotic arm to reach out and grapple the Dragon so it can dock the station.
Dragon will deliver 1,000 pounds of food, clothing and water to the station. A successful mission for SpaceX will be a significant step on the road to fulfilling its $381 million contract with NASA which specifies a minimum of 12 flights carrying supplies to and from the space station.
Without the space shuttle, Dragon is the only spacecraft in the world capable of returning significant cargo from the space station. It’s hoped that Dragon will be able to carry astronauts in the future.
“This mission heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one in which there is a significant commercial space element,” Musk said. “It is like the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s when commercial companies entered what was originally a government endeavor. That move dramatically accelerated the pace of advancement and made the Internet accessible to the mass market. I think we’re at a similar inflection point for space.”
NASA has also awarded $266 million to Orbital Sciences Corp., a Virginia-based space technology company, which has a goal of launching a rocket and spacecraft by the end of the year.