The first commercial cargo to the International Space Station will be shipped by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, starting April 30. If the company is
successful, it will be the first time a private spacecraft docks with the space station.
“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.
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.
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.