Dragon capsule (via SpaceX)
SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) has recently announced that they will launch their Dragon free-flying reusable space craft on Tuesday May 22nd. This will mark the first time in history that a commercial company has launched a manned space vehicle into space to rendezvous with the International Space Station.
The Dragon re-usable space craft was designed using three main components which feature a nosecone that’s used as a shield during lift-off and houses the docking adapter needed to connect to external hatches found on the ISS. The second component featured is the spacecraft itself and was designed to be configured based on payload specifications and houses the avionics, RCS (Reaction Control System or thruster control systems) system, parachutes and other un-pressurized cargo/systems. The third component featured on the spacecraft is the Trunk which is used for un-pressurized cargo, solar arrays and thermal radiators needed to power the craft.
The re-usable vehicle will be launched atop of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 two-stage heavy-lift rocket which uses 10 Merlin 1C liquid oxygen and kerosene motors (9 on the first stage and 1 on the second). The mission will bring much needed supplies to the ISS as well as challenge the Dragon in a series of tests designed to test the feasibility of using commercial craft for future missions contracted through NASA and other organizations. If all goes well the launch will take place at Cape Canaveral at 4:15 AM Eastern Time and is expected to return a few hundred miles off the coast of California two weeks later. For those interested in watching the launch head over to SpaceX.com which will start broadcasting 40 minutes prior to launch.
Update: The rocket was scheduled to launch this past Saturday, the 19th. However, the team discovered a faulty check valve on the "Merlin Engine." The component was swapped, and not the historic flight will take place this Tuesday, the 22nd. The post was updated to reflect the change.
Update 2: The Falcon 9 is now in orbit. The launch was successful.