With the space shuttle ceasing service next year and the Constellation program unprepared to launch before 2014, NASA will spend at least four years planted firmly on the ground. But NASA’s hiatus is the private space industry’s gain, and commercial space carrier Space Exploration Technologies — or SpaceX, for brevity’s sake — plans to launch its Dragon spacecraft on her maiden voyage to the International Space Station between May and November of next year.
Following on the heels of Virgin Galactic’s unveiling of its commercial spacecraft last week, Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX also said it has conducted its first training session with a handful of NASA astronauts that will eventually dock the unmanned Dragon craft with the ISS. Three of the astronauts will be aboard the ISS when that first Dragon spacecraft, carrying resupply cargo to the station, makes contact with the ISS next year.
The Dragon capsules will ride into orbit aboard SpaceX’s own medium-lift Falcon 9 rockets, which will make their own debut in February barring any setbacks. The first Falcon 9 launch will carry a Dragon capsule, but it will not rendezvous with the ISS. Hooking up with the ISS will mark SpaceX’s second milestone for the private space industry, having already gained the honor of being the first private company to deposit a satellite into orbit earlier this year.