SpaceX and NASA announced this morning that the first commercial spacecraft has docked with the International Space Station after several days of orbital test maneuvers.
The unmanned capsule called Dragon launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early in the morning hours on May 22. It spent the following day catching up to the station in orbit.
Yesterday Dragon conducted a series of tests to ensure that SpaceX mission controllers could dock safely with the orbiting complex. Both capsule and station are orbiting the Earth at speeds exceeding 17,500 miles per hour.
Earlier today the capsule was brought in closer to the station where it was grabbed by the station’s robotic arm and was later attached to a docking port. Station astronauts will soon enter the capsule and unload cargo.
Watch SpaceX mission controllers react to the capturing:
The historic mission is the first time a private spacecraft has docked with the International Space Station. Aboard the unmanned cargo capsule are non mission-critical supplies and equipment, including an experiment from Hartford high school students.
Station astronauts will load return cargo into Dragon before it is detached from the station on May 31 and deorbited. SpaceX plans to pick up Dragon in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred miles off the southern California coast.
If the mission is successful it will mark the culmination of a commercial cargo development program that began in 2006. If not, the company will need to conduct additional test missions before beginning a $1.6 billion contract for regular supply missions to the station. SpaceX has spent over $680 million on the commercial cargo test program since 2006. That figure is a mix of private investment and public contributions from NASA.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that NASA’s contributions were critical for the development of the company at a press conference May 22.
“I would like to start off by saying what a tremendous honor it has been to work with NASA. And to acknowledge the fact that we could not have started SpaceX, nor could we have reached this point without the help of NASA,” Musk said.
CTTechJunkie will update this article throughout the mission.