A Falcon 9 rocket, built by Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX, is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It's the second of 12 SpaceX resupply missions to the Space Station under a $1.6 billion Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract with NASA.
SpaceX's cargo-carrying Dragon capsule made an initial demonstration flight to the ISS last May. That was followed by the first commercial resupply mission in October.
NASA turned to the private sector for transportation services to the ISS after retiring the Space Shuttle program in 2011. Last year, NASA partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to create standards for commercial space travel. The FAA estimates there will be an average of 29 commercial launches annually over the next 10 years.
[ What caused NASA to lose contact with the Space Station for almost three hours? Read NASA Reports Space Station Communications Outage Fixed. ]
This particular SpaceX mission will carry nearly 1,300 pounds of supplies for the Space Station crew and for experiments being conducted at the Earth-orbiting research facility. The Dragon capsule will attach to the Space Station's Harmony module for three weeks, then return to Earth and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast on March 25. The capsule will return to Earth with more than 2,600 pounds of cargo, including scientific material, education experiments and Space Station hardware.
SpaceX plans to eventually take not just cargo, but astronauts, to the Space Station. Under a $440 million agreement with NASA, SpaceX is modifying Dragon to make it crew-ready.
NASA is pursuing development of commercial capabilities for transporting crews to and from low-Earth orbit. In a February report on its so-called Commercial Crew Integrated Capability, NASA said that milestones are on schedule, with 12 of 42 planned milestones completed.
SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk is a technology entrepreneur who cofounded PayPal and electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors. In an on-stage interview at the TED conference in Long Beach, Calif., this week, Musk discussed his company's efforts to create reusable rockets and explore space.
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