On its second try, SpaceX successfully completed the first launch of a commercial spacecraft on Tuesday morning at 3:44am. Right now, the Dragon spacecraft is in orbit, and the SpaceX team is doing checks and scans to prepare for its docking attempt with the International Space Station on May 25th. From the SpaceX updates website:
Mission Highlights: During the mission, Dragon must perform a series of complex tasks, each presenting significant technical challenges (dates subject to change):
- May 22/Launch Day: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launches a Dragon spacecraft into orbit from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
- May 23: Dragon orbits Earth as it travels toward the International Space Station.
- May 24: Dragon’s sensors and flight systems are subjected to a series of complicated tests to determine if the vehicle is ready to berth with the space station; these tests include maneuvers and systems checks in which the vehicle comes within 1.5 miles of the station.
- May 25: NASA decides if Dragon is allowed to attempt berthing with the station. If so, Dragon approaches. It is captured by station’s robotic arm and attached to the station, a feat that requires extreme precision.
- May 25 - 31: Astronauts open Dragon’s hatch, unload supplies and fill Dragon with return cargo.
- May 31: After approximately two weeks, Dragon is detached from the station and returns to Earth, landing in the Pacific, hundreds of miles west of Southern California.