SpaceX ISS mission set to launch this month

NASA has confirmed an April 30 launch date for SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship, the first private resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Dragon capsule, will liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is extremely tight – ‘instantaneous’, says NASA – at 12:22 pm EDT.

During the flight, the Dragon capsule will conduct a series of check-out procedures to test and prove its systems, including rendezvous and berthing with the International Space Station (ISS).

Before docking, the ship will make a flyby of the ISS at a distance of around 1.5 miles to make sure all sensors and flight systems are working properly. It will also demonstrate the ability to abort the rendezvous.

The spaceship is due to dock on May 3 using the ISS’s robotic arm, with the hatch being opened the following day. It’s carrying 512 kg of non-essential items, including food, clothing and science experiments, and will also bring back around 660 kg of old equipment which NASA says may be reusable.

It’ll return to Earth on May 21.

The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and will be the first under the US’ new policy of contracting out cargo missions.

SpaceX is hoping to send manned missions to the ISS in around three years’ time; until then, Russian spacacraft will be carrying American astronauts to the station. In the longer term, it has its eye on the Moon and Mars.