This morning, the first commercial space launch to the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It was launched by SpaceX, and will carry the company’s Dragon capsule, containing some 460 kilos of supplies, to the space station crew.
The Falcon 9 rocket runs on a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene. It is essentially a larger version of the company’s Falcon 1 rocket, which first reached orbit in 2008.
The launch is a huge success for SpaceX, which hopes to eventually play a major role in supporting the ISS. It is also a vindication for NASA, which has invested millions in commercial companies in recent years.
This is just the start of the mission, however. Over the next few days, the Dragon capsule will perform a number of maneuvering tests. It will then move near enough to the ISS to be snagged by the station’s robotic arm and guided in for docking. The supplies will be unloaded, and the capsule will be filled with a variety of cargo for transport back to earth, including several experiments that have languished on the station.
After 18 days at the space station, the capsule will undock and return to earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Only when the capsule is bobbing in the waves will the Dragon’s flight be considered a complete success.
Image: NASA TV