The first commercial cargo to the International Space Station will be shipped by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, starting April 30, according to the Associated Press. If the company is successful, it will be the first time a private spacecraft docks with the space station.
SpaceX officials originally scheduled the launch date for February but the vehicle required further testing. SpaceX plans to test its unmanned Dragon capsule on April 16, and if all is well, will launch on April 30 and dock with the ISS on May 3.
NASA's International Space Station program, along with our international partners, will take a look at the readiness of both station and SpaceX for the mission. If all is go, then SpaceX will be given a green light for an April 30 launch, NASA officials said, according to Forbes.
The Dragon capsule will be completely unmanned like the Russian, European and Japanese capsules that currently run supply missions to the space station.
SpaceX engineers designed the Dragon capsule to be used multiple times, unlike conventional supply ships which burn up while reentering the atmosphere. Using the Dragon capsule costs NASA per $133 million per delivery, far less than the $300 million it costs just to build a conventional capsule, according to ArsTechnica.
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The Dragon capsule is part of the 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) directive designed to coordinate supply and passenger delivery by private companies to the International Space Station. NASA signed agreements with three companies, but SpaceX is the closest to reaching the space station.
Orbital Sciences, another company that is a part of the COTS program, will launch its unmanned spacecraft for the first time later in 2012.
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, said he hopes to bring astronauts aboard the Dragon capsule within the next few years, according to Forbes. SpaceX completed its first crew trial on Friday, demonstrating that the capsule could carry either seven crew members or 13,000 pounds (5,900 kilograms) of cargo safely.
NASA currently relies on Russian capsules to transport crew to the ISS.