The first commercial cargo run to the International Space Station is off until spring. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, planned to launch its unmanned supply ship from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 7. But the company said more testing was needed with the spacecraft, named Dragon. And on Friday, officials confirmed the launch would not occur until late March.
Just over a year ago, the California-based company launched a test version of the capsule, becoming the first private business to send a spacecraft into orbit and return it safely. NASA is counting on companies like SpaceX to keep the station stocked, now that the shuttles are retired.
Until then, the Russian, European and Japanese space agencies — all government entities — are picking up the slack as best they can, sending up regular shipments to the orbiting outpost.
SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said this is a developmental program for her company, and everyone wants it to be a complete success. "It may take a little more time, but when it happens, it's going to be amazing," she said.
This first Dragon capsule to visit the space station will carry several hundred pounds of astronaut provisions — nothing crucial, in case of a failure.
"This will be one step in the long road to human expansion off of the planet into low-Earth orbit and beyond," space station astronaut Donald Pettit said Friday. He is barely one month into a five-month mission.
SpaceX — run by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk — is one of several companies vying for space station visiting privileges. Its long-term goal is to modify its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule to ferry astronauts to the station. In the meantime, Americans are buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.