New Delhi: SpaceX, owned by the billionaire Internet entrepreneur, Elon Musk , is all poised to be the first private company to send its own cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS).
The space mission will begin before dawn Saturday (4:55 am, 0855 GMT) with the launch of the unmanned Dragon spacecraft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
If all goes well as planned, the bid would propel the company even further ahead in the race to fill the void left by the US Space Shuttle program which ended in July last year. Otherwise, it would be a setback for SpaceX, one of several firms working to build and launch a spacecraft that could tote astronauts to the ISS by 2015.
“The attention given to this flight creates a set of high expectations and it’s still a test flight but the consequences of failure would be very serious,” said John Logsdon, space policy expert at George Washington University. “NASA is putting a big bet on this succeeding.”
The company has so far received $381 million from NASA as part of a multi-year $1.6-billion contract to expand the capability to carry cargo to and from the ISS.
NASA has also made a similar deal with a second company, Orbital Sciences, though it is yet to attempt its first cargo mission.
While, SpaceX became the first commercial enterprise to successfully launch its space capsule into low-Earth orbit and back for a safe ocean recovery in 2010, the compay has also been able to develop the Falcon 9 rocket launch vehicle at a third of the cost — $1.7 billion.
“They are playing with their own money and they have real incentives to hold down costs,” said Howard McCurdy, an author and space policy expert at American University in Washington. He said “SpaceX is in the lead but whether or not they are going to wind up in the lead at the end, we don’t know, that’s what makes it fascinating to watch”.