Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, is scheduled to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft at 10:10 a.m. ET. The spacecraft will ferry 1,268 pounds of supplies for the space station crew and for experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory.
The unmanned Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to rendezvous with the space station on Saturday. Astronauts will use one of the orbiter’s robotic arms to grab the capsule and attach it to the station. It’s set to remain attached for three weeks and will return to Earth on March 25.
If the launch is successful, it will be the second of 12 SpaceX flights contracted by NASA to resupply the space station. It also will mark the third trip by a Dragon capsule to the orbiting laboratory.
SpaceX made a demonstration flight in May 2012 and then flew the first official resupply mission last October, when the Dragon delivered 882 pounds of supplies, including 260 pounds of crew supplies, 390 pounds of scientific research equipment and 225 pounds of hardware.
It also brought back 1,673 lbs. of used supplies and equipment from the station.
The commercial missions to supply the space station mark a new chapter in U.S. space exploration.
Ever since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles in the summer of 2011, the space agency has said it would need commercial allies to ferry supplies, and possibly astronauts, back and forth to the space station.
SpaceX was the first company to work with NASA for short-haul missions to the space station.
For its own part, NASA is focused on building high-powered engines and robotics, as well as preparing for more ambitious missions to the moon, asteroids and Mars.