October liftoff set for $1.6 billion SpaceX rocket program


Private spaceship will make its first official voyage to the International Space Station.

The first flight of a private spaceship under a $1.6 billion contract to resupply the International Space Station is scheduled for Oct. 7, NASA officials announced Thursday evening. The Dragon cargo spacecraft, owned by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., made a successful test run in May to dock with the outerspace laboratory.

Next month’s journey will be the first of 12 unmanned flights to refill the space station, under the Commercial Resupply Services contract awarded to SpaceX in 2008, officials said. NASA has been unable to ferry much material to the facility since the 30-year-old space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

Once a robotic arm attaches the Dragon to the space station, it will hover for a few weeks while astronauts unpack the cargo and ship back lab samples, according to NASA. In late October, the spacecraft is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California.

The Dragon will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with about 1,000 pounds of supplies for conducting experiments in human biotechnology and plant cell biology, among other areas. The spaceship will return with more than 1,200 pounds of station hardware and results from scientific investigations. One project will demonstrate how microgravity affects the growth of plant cell walls, which could have implications for future genetically modified foods.

The goal is to substitute NASA aircraft with commercial spaceships to eventually transport human crew members. In August, SpaceX announced the company had clinched a $440 million contract to build a space shuttle successor for such missions.