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SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft Headed to ISS This February

After becoming the first private company to send a vehicle into space and return it safely to Earth, SpaceX had planned to quickly become the home-grown connection for American astronauts and cargo headed to the International Space Station. However, those plans were put on hold during a crisis stemming from a failed Russian launch last August. Now, SpaceX is finally getting the clear to blast off again.

According to NASA, the unmanned version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will be blasting off on February 7, 2012 bound for the ISS. The mission will be a milestone for SpaceX, giving the company the distinction of flying the first spacecraft not constructed by a national government to dock with the station.

More important than historical clout, the mission will also test the Dragon’s capability’s in space. The mission is planned to have two halves, the first of which will be a fly-by of the ISS by the Dragon at a distance of two miles. If that goes well, and everyone is satisfied that the spacecraft is performing correctly, the Dragon will approach and dock with the help of the station’s large robotic arm.

Interestingly, should the docking prove unsuccessful, NASA says this will be opportunity to “demonstrate the capability to abort the rendezvous, if required.” So even if something goes wrong, it’s still sort of a success.

The string of delays has been unfortunate for SpaceX, which has long advertised speed and safety as key components of their operation. What’s more, the delays threatened to  slow the momentum and sap some excitement from company at a vital time. However, the proposed launch date does give the go-ahead for SpaceX to both approach and dock with the ISS — which was initially planned as two separate missions.

Hopefully we’ve seen the last of the delays, and will be treated to a picture-perfect SpaceX launch come this February. And who knows? Maybe they’ll deliver some cheese to the ISS crew.

(via NASA)

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