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SpaceX set for Dragon launch on May 19

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The Dragon spacecraft. A NASA photo.

HAWTHORNE, CALIFORNIA (BNS): For the first time in history, a private corporation is set to prove it can deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is preparing for its second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, demonstration to show that private industry can build and launch spacecraft on regular cargo resupply missions to the Space Station.

At the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, a Falcon 9 rocket is being readied to place the Dragon spacecraft into orbit on 19 May.

This rocket and spacecraft will not carry people, but will have about 1,200 pounds of supplies onboard for the six astronauts and cosmonauts working on the space station.

The flight is an ambitious test for the company and NASA as they work through a new spacecraft, rocket and rework the fundamental approach to spaceflight.

Even if problems develop on this particular mission, NASA officials say the agency will keep the effort going and work to resolve any issues.

The first COTS demonstration flight that SpaceX completed was in December 2010, where it proved that it could launch, orbit and recover its Dragon spacecraft.

Prior to that, the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 demonstrated it could launch a Dragon capsule simulator atop a Falcon 9 rocket. This upcoming mission will prove that Dragon can rendezvous and berth with the International Space Station.

After launching from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Dragon will begin its journey to the space station. The Dragon flight control team in Hawthorne, California, will command the spacecraft to approach the station from its hold position.

Dragon will spend about two weeks attached to the space station, at which point the crew will detach it from Harmony, maneuver it out to the 10 meter release point and then free the vehicle.

The Dragon spacecraft is targeted to land in the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred miles west of Southern California. On this mission, Dragon will be recovered by ship.

According to reports, SpaceX has so far received $381 million from NASA as part of a multi-year $1.6-billion contract to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the ISS.

The US space agency has struck a similar deal with a second company, Orbital Sciences, though it has yet to attempt its first cargo mission.

The Dragon spacecraft has also been built to carry humans to space. SpaceX hopes that a successful cargo trip to the ISS will soon lead to a manned mission.

The end of the 30-year US space shuttle programme last year left Russia as the sole nation capable of sending astronauts to the ISS.

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SpaceX  Dragon  ISS  
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