The California-based company SpaceX has launched the first of a dozen missions to deliver critical supplies to the International Space Station for the U.S. space agency.
On the eve of the mission, the launch weather forecaster said there was a 40-percent chance that poor weather could delay the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida Sunday night. But the craft took off on schedule.
The SpaceX unmanned Dragon capsule rides atop a Falcon 9 rocket toward the International Space Station for the second time ever.
The company made history in May when its space capsule became the first private vehicle to dock with the space station
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday evening that the rocket and capsule in this first operational mission are largely the same as the ones used in the successful demonstration flight.
“I’m not sure any of the engineering team, frankly, or myself feels like this is substantially different than the last one with the exception that we got there once,” said Ms. Shotwell. “We demonstrated we could do it. So there might be a teeny, teeny bit of relaxation. Uhm, not a lot though.”
NASA has awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to provide 12 supply flights to the space station.
Space station partners Russia, Europe and Japan have the ability to deliver cargo, but their cargo vessels burn up in the atmosphere during reentry. The United States has not been able to send supplies to the station since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year.
The Dragon carries about 450 kilograms of supplies, including materials critical to scientific research.
At the end of the month, the capsule will return to Earth carrying space station hardware as well as scientific materials, including research samples.