Date set for first private flight to ISS

The first docking of a commercial spaceship with the International Space Station could take place as early as next May.

California-based SpaceX says it’s got a narrow launch window on April 30, 2012 at 12.22 pm EDT for the flight, which was initially scheduled for February.

The Dragon capsule will launch on an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket, and will be captured by ISS astronauts when it arrives on May 3, using the station’s robotic arm. It will then be attached to the side of the ISS in the same way as existing cargo freighters.

The company’s hoping to carry out as many as a dozen resupply flights to the ISS between now and 2017. Currently, most such flights are carried out by Russian Soyuz rockets.

The spaceship’s first flight, in December 2010, was delayed by the discovery of a crack in the engine nozzle on the rocket’s second stage. But the flight was successful, with Dragon safely orbiting Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific.

 Ultimately, SpaceX hopes to carry out manned flights, and it’s also just completed and tested a prototype crew cabin. Jolly nice it looks too.

“Dragon has so much interior volume, that we could place an entire three-person Russian Soyuz capsule descent module inside Dragon’s pressure vessel,” says the company.

Astronauts spent a day taking part in an evaluation which included entering and exiting under normal and emergency situations, as well as checking out the accessibility and visibility of the different systems.