On Saturday, May 19, a single, private spaceflight company may determine the future of this emerging industry. If the corporation succeeds, then the way will be paved for other, similar entities to send cargo to the International Space Station under NASA contracts.
Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is currently carrying out the last preparations before launching an unmanned version of its Dragon spacecraft to the orbital outpost.
The capsule carries several tons of supplies, water, food and propellant for the Expedition 31 crew in low-Earth orbit. Its flight represents the first time a privately-built spacecraft is allowed to attempt a docking procedure with the $100 billion ISS.
Dragon will take off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), in Florida, aboard a SpaceX-built Falcon 9 medium-lift delivery system. This mission will mark the second time Dragon and Falcon fly together to space.
Their first joint mission occurred in December 2010, and was the capsule's first orbital one. The flight was Falcon 9's second, with the first taking place in June 2010. SpaceX was originally supposed to launch the upcoming mission a lot sooner, but various reasons caused significant delays.
In any case, the company now appears to be ready to launch the mission. Officials at NASA say that the agency is ready to provide support for a May 19 takeoff attempt. “It is, by all accounts, an important step, bordering on a giant leap for commercial spaceflight,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria.
The expert made the statement in front of reporters, on May 17. He is the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and XCOR Aerospace CEO, Jeff Greason, were also present at the news briefing.
“This is a very exciting time to be involved with the US space program. We're starting to write the next chapter. We are at a brink of a milestone moment in our space history with the upcoming SpaceX launch,” Garver said, quoted by Space
SpaceX was able to develop the launch system and associated spacecraft thanks to a $1.6 billion contract signed with NASA, under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
“If they get even half of their mission objectives done successfully, that will still be a historic first. Test flights are called test flights for a reason. They very rarely go perfectly. I wish them all the success in the world. "If they get even halfway there, that's still one for the books,” Greason concluded.