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SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft in pictures

SpaceX is preparing to launch the first private-sector flight to the International Space Station. Its Falcon 9 rocket will launch its Dragon capsule at the beginning of May
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By Andy Smith on
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Falcon 9 rocket

NASA is making the final inspections before the scheduled launch of the first privately built and funded spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station, on 7 May. This could be the beginning of a new era of space travel — from the private sector.

For this mission SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon capsule, loaded with half a ton of cargo, with its own rocket, the Falcon 9, pictured above being readied for launch.

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Technicians load supplies into Dragon

NASA officials compare this mission to the Mercury programme, which was the first step to the Apollo programme and landing on the moon. SpaceX's launch is expected to open the door for future commercial flights.

Above, technicians load supplies into Dragon in preparation for their rendezvous.

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Nine engines

The SpaceX Merlin engines power the Falcon 9 first stage. After the engines are ignited the rocket is still clamped and not allowed to launch until all systems are 'go'. The engines provide 125,000lbsf sea-level thrust per engine for a total thrust on lift-off of just over 1.1 million lbsf.

Learning from early rocket failures, SpaceX uses nine engines, which should propel a successful launch even if one engine malfunctions.

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Lift-off of a Falcon 9 test in December 2011

SpaceX has already completed two successful launches along with the recovery of its space capsule.

Here's the lift-off of a Falcon 9 test in December 2011. SpaceX is working on a larger rocket that will be able to carry more equipment into space.

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Dragon space capsule

The Dragon space capsule gets ready for its ride.

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Astronauts aboard the Dragon capsule

Dragon's mission to the Internatonal Space Station is actually a safety test for future passenger flights. Seven people can fit in Dragon with three seated in front and four standing.

Here, NASA astronauts try out the seating — and standing — arrangements.

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Capsule falls back to Earth

NASA believes that one of the biggest advantages of SpaceX's Dragon capsule is that it is planned to be reuseable, similar to the space shuttles.

Here is a test of its capsule falling back to Earth.

This story originally appeared as NASA set to go commercial with SpaceX on ZDNet.com.


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