SpaceX is expected to fly NASA astronauts into space in July this year after its unmanned Crew Dragon capsule docked on the International Space Station (ISS) around 11am GMT on Sunday.
NASA experts confirmed it and SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk hailed the successful docking as a first for a commercially built and operated spacecraft designed for crew.
Crew Dragon was launched on Saturday on board a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule carries a dummy astronaut and a small toy which would float in space.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme is involving US aerospace industry companies to develop human spaceflight systems. SpaceX’s latest mission is part of that program.
The programme is aimed at ending the dependence on Russian space programme to take astronauts to the ISS which began after the US space agency shut down its shuttle programme in July 2011.
NASA is paying Russia $82 million per head to take its people up to the ISS orbiting research facility.
In 2014, it awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to take over the task from Russia. SpaceX may take NASA astronauts to the ISS in July.
The Dragon capsule will detach itself from the ISS until Friday and begin fiery, high-speed descent through the atmosphere before soft-landing in the Atlantic with the help of four parachutes.
Like SpaceX, Boeing too has developed a capsule called the Starliner. This will have a demo flight in the next couple of months.