SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft have successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, an event that marks the second demonstration mission for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) programme.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said: ‘Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) that will attempt to dock there for the first time.
‘And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to a good start… the nation is embarking upon an ambitious exploration programme that will take us farther into space than we have ever travelled before.’
According to NASA, the Dragon capsule will conduct a series of procedures to test and prove its systems, including the capability to rendezvous and berth with the ISS.
On 24 May, Dragon is scheduled to perform a flyby of the space station at a distance of approximately 1.5 miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach.
Following analysis of the flyby by NASA and SpaceX managers, the Dragon capsule will be cleared to rendezvous and berth with the ISS on 25 May, marking the first time a commercial company has attempted this feat.
The Expedition 31 crew onboard the ISS will use the orbiting complex’s robotic arm to capture Dragon and install it on the bottom side of the Harmony node.
‘This flight is an important milestone as NASA and SpaceX develop the next generation of US spacecraft to carry the critically important experiments, payloads and supplies to our remarkable laboratory in space,’ said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration Operations Directorate.
SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, which will perform its own test flight later this year, have been working under NASA’s COTS programme, which provides investments to stimulate the commercial space industry in the US. Once the companies have successfully completed their test flights, they will begin delivering regular cargo shipments to the station.
Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9