SpaceX's Dragon begins first cargo mission to International Space Station

After a successful test earlier this year, Elon Musk's private venture has begun the first of a dozen planned missions to supply and return cargo from the International Space Station.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

SpaceX has launched the first of a dozen planned missions to supply the International Space Station, after having successfully tested its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket earlier this year.

The test in May was designed to see whether the Dragon could successfully reach and dock with the ISS, but Sunday's launch marked the beginning of SpaceX's true commercial operations. The US ditched its shuttle programme last year, so it now has to rely on private enterprises to carry cargo to and from the inhabited satellite.

SpaceX's unmanned Falcon 9 rocket has taken off on its first operational cargo trip to the ISS. Credit: Nasa TV

The unmanned Dragon, which is carrying crew supplies and space station hardware, took off from Cape Canaveral at 8:35pm Eastern Time on Sunday, or 1:35am on Monday in British Summer Time.

"We are right where we need to be at this stage in the mission," SpaceX chief Elon Musk, the PayPal and Tesla Motors founder, said in a statement. "We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon's approach to the space station. But the launch was an unqualified success."

Dragon is due to attach to the ISS on Wednesday and hang around for two weeks, before coming back to Earth on 28 October — it is currently the only space station cargo craft that can bring back a "significant amount" of supplies with it, and will return with space station hardware and scientific materials.

SpaceX's ISS cargo contract with NASA is worth some $1.6bn (£1bn). At some point in the future, the company hopes its craft will be able to carry people, too.

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