SpaceX and NASA said today that May 19 is the new launch date for the first-ever attempt to send a private company's rocket to the International Space Station.
Intended as a demonstration flight, the mission is designed to give NASA and SpaceX information that will help them plan future missions to the space station. Weather scrapped the previous attempt at the launch, which had been scheduled for May 7.
Unless weather or other factors intervene, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft will launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on May 19. On May 20, Dragon is expected to orbit the Earth on its way to the ISS. The next day, Dragon's flight systems and sensors will be put through a series of tests meant to demonstrate whether the spacecraft is capable of berthing with ISS. During those tests, Dragon will fly within a mile and a half of the ISS. On May 22, NASA will determine if Dragon can dock with the space station, and if so, the ISS' robotic arm will capture the spacecraft.
Assuming all of that goes well, Dragon will then unload its cargo, spending about two weeks at the space station before returning to terra firma with cargo being sent back to Earth.
The Dragon capsule will be the first commercial cargo ship cleared to fly to the ISS. This is a vital step forward for NASA, since in the wake of the end of the Space Shuttle program, the U.S. space agency no longer has the means to send its own spacecraft to the space station. NASA's long-range strategy is to rely on commercial spacecraft for space station missions. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences are two companies that have the contracts for such missions.
The Dragon capsule will have 1,150 pounds of noncritical equipment and supplies aboard when it launches.