A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship approaches the International Space Station in this artist's illustration.
WASHINGTON ? The commercial spaceflight company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) said this month that it expects to launch its cargo-carrying Dragon spacecraft on a maiden flight to the International Space Station (ISS) sometime between May and November 2010.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company said it conducted the first Dragon operations training session with NASA astronauts in October to bring them up to speed on how the station crew will interface with the capsule while it is approaching and berthed to the station.
?Three of the participating astronauts ? Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock ? will be on board the ISS when Dragon makes its first visit under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program,? SpaceX officials said in a recent statement.
SpaceX developed Dragon in part with NASA funding provided under the COTS program. The space capsule is designed to fly near the space station and then be grappled by the outpost?s robotic arm so it can be attached to a berthing port.
The three named astronauts have been assigned to the Expedition 24 crew slated to be aboard the station between May and November 2010.
?This was the first time the NASA astronauts who will interact with Dragon during its early mission were actually inside a Dragon flight vehicle,? said SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk.
SpaceX is under contract to NASA to conduct three COTS demonstration flights with Dragon vehicles. Those tests would then be followed by 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015. The NASA cargo contract with SpaceX is worth $1.6 billion.
Dragon?s launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 rocket, is expected to make its debut in early 2010. That mission will carry aloft a Dragon capsule, but it will not rendezvous with the space station.
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