After numerous postponements and delays, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has finally launched a cargo-carrying spacecraft into orbit with the goal of hooking up with the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceXs Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:44 a.m. from Cape Canaveral, Fla., carrying a Dragon spacecraft. If and when the Dragon links up with the ISS, it will represent the first time a commercial company has delivered cargo in outer space.
We have to go through a number of steps to berth with the ISS, 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, says Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of SpaceX.
SpaceX provided the following timeline highlighting each of the major tasks the Dragon spacecraft is expected to attempt (dates subject to change):
May 22, 2012: SpaceXs Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. ACCOMPLISHED
May 23: Dragon orbits Earth as it travels toward the International Space Station.
May 24: Dragons sensors and flight systems are subjected to a series of complicated tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station; these tests include maneuvers and systems checks in which the vehicle comes within 1.5 miles of the station.
May 25: NASA decides if Dragon is allowed to attempt berthing with the station. If so, Dragon approaches. It is captured by stations robotic arm and attached to the station, a feat that requires extreme precision.
May 25-31: Astronauts open Dragons hatch, unload supplies and fill Dragon with return cargo.
May 31: After approximately two weeks, Dragon is detached from the station and returns to Earth, landing in the Pacific, hundreds of miles west of Southern California.
This mission is considered a demonstration flight, under an agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the ISS. This is SpaceXs second such demonstration flight, with the first taking place in 2010.
Cost in Space