NASA Makes It Official – SpaceX Given The Go For ISS Trip
April 17, 2012

NASA Makes It Official – SpaceX Given The Go For ISS Trip

Brett Smith for

On Monday, NASA announced they had officially scheduled the launch of the first privately-owned ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS). The launch will take place on April 30 and is significant milestone for Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and other companies like it.

The SpaceX designed and manufactured ship, consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space module, will lift-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with the intent of a rendezvous and successful berthing with the space station.

After the capsule approaches the ISS, it will conduct a series of tests to ensure that the on-board sensor and docking equipment are fully-functional. The ship will also test its ability to abort the rendezvous during its approach.

Assuming the system test results are positive, the capsule is scheduled to dock with the ISS on May 3, its fourth day of flight. NASA´s live broadcast of the docking will begin at 2am and conclude with a live press conference once the Dragon is secured. The capsule is scheduled to decouple, return to Earth´s atmosphere, and splashdown on May 21.

SpaceX will deliver over 1,100 pounds of cargo to the station, which is counting on the company and Orbital Sciences Corp. for shuttling food, supplies, and research equipment to the ISS. The Dragon capsule is expected to return to Earth with 1,455 pounds of cargo.

"In order for space station to be successful, these systems have to be there for us," space station program manager Mike Suffredini told Irene Klotz of Reuters.

"We're always excited when we have a vehicle coming to ISS but this will be one of those historic launches.”

Dragon has been developed under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, program, which has been set up to deliver payloads of supplies to the ISS through commercial contractors.  The NASA first announced the program in January 2006 and said they plans to run COTS through “at least 2015.”

Elon Musk, the SpaceX chief executive officer and chief designer, tempered expectations of the Dragon´s first trip to the ISS by telling reporters that going into space is a massive undertaking, fraught with sometimes unexpected difficulties.

"It's just important to appreciate that this is pretty tricky," he told reporters.

"This is a test flight and we may not succeed on getting all the way to the space station. I think we've got a pretty good shot, but it's important to acknowledge that a lot can go wrong. This is pretty tricky."

According to Musk, who earned his fortune by founding PayPal, NASA has invested $381 million in the SpaceX rocket and capsule, with the company and investors contributing about another $700 million. The company made history with its Dragon launch in December 2010, becoming the first commercial ship to launch into space, orbit, and successfully return.

SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have received hundreds of millions of dollars to help them develop new rocket and capsule systems. The companies' combined contracts for cargo deliveries are worth $3.8 billion. Orbital is expected to fly a cargo ship to the ISS later this year.