NASA has approved the first commercial space flight to the International Space Station.
SpaceX will launch its Dragon cargo capsule on February 7, 2012 for the first linkup of a private-sector craft with the ISS.
“SpaceX has made incredible progress over the last several months preparing Dragon for its mission to the space station,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in a NASA Press Release. “We look forward to a successful mission, which will open up a new era in commercial cargo delivery for this international orbiting laboratory.”
There are going to be two phases to the flight on February 7. The first phase will begin after the Dragon capsule achieves orbit. NASA has set forward several milestones for the capsule to meet, including a flyby of the space station. If those objectives are met, then the capsule will rendezvous with the ISS, using the station’s robotic arm as operated by the ISS crew.
If the flyby, rendezvous and release are successful, this will mark the first successful docking of a private spacecraft with the International Space Station – a huge leap forward for the future of commerical spaceflight.
“SpaceX is excited to be the first commercial company in history to berth with the International Space Station. This mission will mark a historic milestone in the future of spaceflight,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “We appreciate NASA’s continued support and their partnership in this process.”
After the success of this mission, SpaceX plans to get the Dragon capsule rated for human spaceflight. If they’re successful in that venture, then they will have created a viable alternative to Russia for crewing the International Space Station. Given some of the issues with Russia’s space program this year, as well as its continual funding issues, that would definitely be a good thing to have.