Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft to orbit. This makes the 1,800-strong SpaceX the first commercial company in history to attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.
At 3:44 a.m. Eastern, the Falcon 9 carrying Dragon launched from SpaceX’s launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Now Dragon heads toward the International Space Station. On that journey it will be subjected to a series of tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the station.
The vehicle’s first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX.
This is SpaceX’s second demonstration flight under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station. Demonstration launches are conducted to determine potential issues so that they might be addressed; by their very nature, they carry a significant risk. If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again.
Mission Highlights: During the mission, Dragon must perform a series of complex tasks, each presenting significant technical challenges (dates subject to change):
- May 22/Launch Day: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
- May 23: Dragon orbits Earth as it travels toward the International Space Station.
- May 24: Dragon’s 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 station’s robotic arm and attached to the station, a feat that requires extreme precision.
- May 25 – 31: Astronauts open Dragon’s 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.