by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 25, 2012
SpaceX's Dragon capsule on Friday became the first private company to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it was successfully grabbed by the orbiting research lab's robotic arm.
"Capture is confirmed," said NASA at 9:56 am (1356 GMT), ahead of a second-phase operation to attach the cargo-carrying Dragon to the lab later in the day.
"It looks like we got us a Dragon by the tail," said US astronaut Don Pettit, who was operating the Canadian-built robotic arm from the space station as it reached out and hooked on to the unmanned SpaceX capsule.
The two spacecraft were traveling about 250 miles (402 kilometers) above northwest Australia at the time of the grab, NASA said.
Next, a formal berthing of the Dragon will bring the capsule closer to latch on at the station's Harmony module so its cargo can be unloaded over the coming days, SpaceX said.
SpaceX's supply ship has now reached the climax of its test mission to become the first privately owned craft to reach the space station, restoring US access to the space outpost after the shuttle program's end.
Only Russia, Japan and Europe currently have supply ships that can service the ISS. The United States lost that capacity when it retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.
California-based SpaceX hopes its gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule will be able to carry astronauts to the ISS in about three years' time. Russia is now the only nation capable of ferrying astronauts there aboard its Soyuz capsules.
The capsule blasted off atop the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Tuesday.
"Once again SpaceX has done it. They have just become the first private company to successfully launch their own spacecraft and get captured by the International Space Station robotic arm," said a NASA commentator.
The demonstration flight has been near flawless, according to progress reports from NASA and SpaceX, after the launch marked what NASA, the White House and SpaceX officials described as a "new era" in spaceflight.
In addition, a successful berthing mission opens the way for SpaceX's $1.6 billion contract with NASA to supply the space station and return cargo to Earth over the coming years.
"After this mission we are on contract for at least 12 more missions to the International Space Station," said SpaceX flight director John Couluris, noting that while Japan and Europe can carry supplies to the ISS, only Russia can return cargo to Earth.
"So we are looking to provide regular services... at a faster rate than some of the other vehicles."
SpaceX and a handful of other companies are using their own funds but are also being helped in their endeavors with seed money from NASA to build cargo and crew capability.
Both SpaceX and NASA have praised their newfound partnership, while insisting that any missteps that may occur are a necessary part of such demonstration missions.
While SpaceX is the first in its field, its competitor Orbital Sciences also has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to supply the space station and is scheduled for its first launch attempt later this year.
SpaceX is the brainchild of 40-year-old billionaire Elon Musk, who made his fortune founding a company that later merged with the PayPal online service, bought by Internet auction giant eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002.
Today he leads SpaceX, Tesla Motors -- a venture marketing electric cars -- and SolarCity, a company that makes solar panels for homes and businesses.
Launch Pad at Space-Travel.com
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SpaceX capsule completes first tests before ISS docking
Washington (AFP) May 23, 2012
The Dragon space capsule, which has launched a new era of commercial spaceflight, completed its first tests before its scheduled docking at the International Space Station, NASA said Wednesday. The test flight of US company SpaceX's capsule, which launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday, aims to show that industry can restore US access to the ISS after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet ... read more
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