Spacex report by NASA
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[♫] A privately built spacecraft has never docked with the space station before, but that's expected to change soon as Space Exploration Technologies nears the launch of its second demonstration mission for NASA. Better known as SpaceX, the company's Dragon capsule already set records in 2010 when it lifted off, orbited twice, and came back to Earth safely. That achievement is expected to be topped by this test flight, which will challenge the spacecraft and bring NASA's plans for commercial resupply of the International Space Station a step closer to fruition. [Elon Musk, Chief Designer, SpaceX Owner] I think it's just important to appreciate that this is pretty tricky. The space station is zooming around the Earth every 90 minutes, and it's going 17,000 miles per hour. So you've got to launch up there; you've got to rendezvous and be tracking the space station to within inches, really. [Narrator] Dragon will not carry any people but will be loaded with 1200 pounds of cargo. However, the spacecraft was designed with astronauts in mind, so future spacecraft are expected to take people into low Earth orbit. For now, cargo is the objective. [Mike Suffredini, NASA Manager Commercial Orbital Transportation Services] This is the beginning of a long-term effort to have the commercial vehicles supply the ISS, which is a critical need for the program. [Narrator] Dragon will fly into space on the strength of a Falcon 9 rocket, also built by SpaceX. Like the Dragon, the Falcon 9 is a relatively new design that has passed its previous flight tests. Once in orbit, two solar arrays will unfold from the side of the Dragon's trunk, and the spacecraft will head toward the station. A host of tests of Dragon's navigation system will be conducted before it's allowed to take the milestone step of attaching to the orbiting laboratory. If Dragon passes the test, it will fire its thrusters and maneuver slowly, pausing close enough to the station so that the astronauts can grab it with a robotic arm and connect it to a station port. Astronauts will then remove the cargo before the spacecraft returns to Earth by parachute. It will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. The mission is expected to last about 3 weeks from liftoff to splashdown. [NASA]
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