SpaceX pushes Dragon/Falcon 9 demonstration launch to May 19

The Dragon spacecraft, carried by the Falcon 9 rocket and scheduled to liftoff May 7, is now headed into orbit and possible docking with the International Space Station on May 19.

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SpaceX (Hawthorne, Calif., USA) on May 4 announced that it is now targeting May 19 for the launch of its upcoming demonstration mission to the International Space Station. The launch and mission are being performed in cooperation with NASA.

This follows a launch dress rehearsal April 30 by the SpaceX launch team that concluded with a brief engine firing to verify the company's Falcon 9 rocket is ready to launch. The practice countdown also tested some of the systems on the Dragon spacecraft that will fly to the space station.

SpaceX is preparing for its second Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, demonstration to show that private industry can build and launch spacecraft on regular cargo resupply missions to the station. This rocket and spacecraft will not carry people, but will have about 1,200 lb/544 kg of supplies onboard for the six astronauts and cosmonauts working on the space station.

Mission plans call for an extensive set of tests in space requiring the Dragon spacecraft to show that it can move precisely in orbit and approach the space station carefully. Only after these tests are successful will the spacecraft be allowed to approach the orbiting laboratory close enough to be grappled and berthed by the station's robotic arm.

Originally, this mission was to include only the launch and tests in orbit rather than physically connecting to the station. If the Dragon is unable to complete its tests successfully, NASA expects to work with SpaceX to resolve whatever issues develop and accomplish a rendezvous and docking on the third demonstration mission. That would not set back any of NASA's plans for future cargo missions to the station because it would be following the parameters the agency originally established for the COTS contract with SpaceX.