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May 22, 2012

First private commercial flight blasts off for international space station

     London: A California-based firm called SpaceX has become the first private company to launch a spacecraft to the International Space Station. This is the first time the firm has been successful to launch a craft after fixing an engine problem that grounded an earlier attempt. The launch of the Dragon space capsule atop the Falcon 9 rocket, which took off at 3.44am (8.44am BST) from Cape Canaveral , Florida , is on a mission to carry supplies to the orbiting research lab. The test flight – which should include a fly-by and berthing with the station in the coming days – aims to show that private industry can restore US access to the ISS after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet last year. No humans are travelling aboard the Dragon, but six astronauts are already at the 100-billion-dollar space lab to help the capsule latch on, to unload supplies and then restock the capsule with cargo to take back to Earth, the Telegraph reported. It is the first of several US competitors to try sending its own spacecraft to the ISS with the goal of restoring US access to space for human travellers by 2015. The company successfully test-launched its Falcon 9 rocket in June 2010, then made history with its Dragon launch in December 2010, becoming the first commercial outfit to send a spacecraft into orbit and back. Its reusable Dragon capsule has been built to carry both cargo and up to seven crew. Until now, only the space agencies of Russia , Japan and Europe have been able to send supply ships to the ISS. If the launch goes as planned on Tuesday, Dragon would orbit the Earth on May 23 as it travels toward the ISS. On May 24, the spacecraft’s sensors and flight systems are to undergo a series of tests to see if the craft is ready to berth with the space station, including a complicated fly-under at a distance of about 1.5 miles. If NASA gives the green light, the Dragon will then approach the ISS on May 25 in an attempt to berth with the station. The astronauts on board the ISS will manoeuvre the station’s robotic arm to help capture the capsule and attach it to the orbiting research outpost. The hatch of the Dragon is set to open on May 26 for unloading and restocking. On May 31, the Dragon is to detach from the station and make a safe landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California.
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