SpaceX is set to carry out the first test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft with Nasa on Saturday morning, as the US looks to launch astronauts from its own rockets and spacecraft on American soil for the first time since 2011.
At 2.49am local time (7.49am UK time), the Crew Dragon will launch from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, heading towards the ISS (International Space Station).
Since ending its previous shuttle programme in 2011, the American space agency has had to buy seats on board Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft instead – an expensive arrangement, costing 81 million dollars a seat (£61 million).
As the first test of the Commercial Crew Programme, a dummy pilot called Ripley – a nod to Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien movies – will make the journey and use sensors to feed back information.
Alongside the dummy will be equipment weighing about 400 pounds, to make it similar to future launches when people would be on board.
If the rocket launches as planned, Crew Dragon is expected to reach the ISS at 6.05am (11.05am UK time) on Sunday.
Nasa will be scrutinising data from the test, in hopes of awarding SpaceX with certification to carry a crew. A trial carrying passengers for the first time could happen as soon as July, with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley taking the ride.
Any space launch is always dependent on weather, but Nasa is optimistic, with an 80% chance of favourable conditions, the space agency said.