The private spaceflight company SpaceX will test fire the engines of the rocket that will launch the first ever commercial space capsule to the International Space Station today (April 30), and the public can watch the test live online.
SpaceX officials will conduct the so-called "static fire test" of the firm's Falcon 9 rocket today at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where the rocket stands poised to blast off toward the space station on May 7. The webcast of the engine test will begin about 30 minutes earlier, at 2:30 p.m. ET (1830 GMT), on the company's website: http://www.spacex.com.
During today's static fire test, SpaceX officials will ignite the nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage.
"After the test, SpaceX will conduct a thorough review of all data as engineers make final preparations for the upcoming launch, currently targeted for May 7," SpaceX officials explained in a statement.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage booster that stands about 180 feet tall (55 meters) and is topped with the company's unmanned Dragon space capsule. It is the capsule that will be making the trip to the International Space Station, where a crew of astronauts is waiting to pluck the gumdrop-shaped capsule from space using a robotic arm. The Dragon vehicle will be attached to the orbiting complex with the robotic arm.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX (short for Space Exploration Technologies, Corp.) has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to conduct 12 cargo missions to the space station with its Dragon spacecraft.
"This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, a feat previously performed by only a few governments. Success is not guaranteed," SpaceX officials said. "If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again."
SpaceX is one of two private companies with contracts to provide unmanned space cargo flights to the space station for NASA. The Virginia-based company Orbital Technologies, Corp., has a $1.9 billion contract to provide eight cargo delivery missions using its own Cygnus spacecraft and Antares rocket. The first test of that spacecraft and rocket is expected to occur later this year.
SpaceX officials said the May 7 launch of Dragon toward the space station will also be webcast live via the company's website.