A private company attempting to send its newly designed cargo rocket to the orbiting International Space Station has been set for Saturday.
SpaceX officials caution that many things can go wrong with such complex new technologies. The Dragon needs to meet up with an orbiting lab that is zooming around the Earth every 90 minutes, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explained at a NASA news briefing in mid-April.
“So you’ve got to launch up there, you’ve got to rendezvous and be tracking the space station to within inches really, and this is something that is going 12 times faster than a bullet from an assault rifle. So it’s hard,” Musk admitted.
If Dragon’s systems and sensors check out, the station crew will capture the capsule with the station’s robotic arm.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is optimistic.
“If all goes well, SpaceX will launch Dragon and they’ll rendezvous with the station and be berthed in a matter of days,: he said. “And that will be the beginning of a totally new era, an era of private access to low-Earth orbit, the International Space Station and other destinations there.”
NASA used its space shuttles to bring cargo to the space station before it retired the shuttle fleet last year. The U.S. space agency is now investing in private companies to handle low-Earth orbit transportation, and it has invested $381 million in SpaceX’s commercial cargo capabilities.