The private rocket and spacecraft owned by Elon Musk’s company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is headed for the International Space Station (ISS) after blasting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida last night in its first cargo mission.
The California-based SpaceX launched the Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday at 8.35pm (EDT), with the unmanned craft carrying around 1,000 pounds of materials.
The plan is for Dragon to chase the space station before it makes its rendez-vous on Wednesday. According to NASA, astronaut and ISS commander Suni Williams will then use a robotic arm to grapple with Dragon to join it to one of the station’s ports.
"We are right where we need to be at this stage in the mission," said Musk, CEO and chief technical officer, SpaceX. "We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon‘s approach to the space station. But the launch was an unqualified success."
The Dragon spacecraft, before being attached to the Falcon 9 rocket. Photo via SpaceX
Under its cargo re-supply contract with NASA, SpaceX is destined to make at least 12 commercial missions to the ISS.
If its rendez-vous with the space station proves successful on Wednesday, Dragon will remain berthed to the ISS for two weeks before returning to earth on 28 October, carrying scientific material and hardware.
Dragon successfully carried out the first-ever test flight by a commercial spacecraft when it docked with the ISS on 25 May.