This mission is a milestone, marking the first time in history that a U.S. commercial company will attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, something only a few governments have ever accomplished.
This is a demonstration mission, a test flight primarily designed to provide NASA and SpaceX with insight to ensure successful future missions.
During the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) 2 flight, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will conduct a series of check-out procedures that will test and prove its systems in advance of the rendezvous with the station. The primary objectives for the flight include a fly-by of the space station at a distance of approximately two miles to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach. The spacecraft also will demonstrate the capability to abort the rendezvous, if required.
Dragon will perform the final approach to the ISS while the station crew grapples the vehicle with the station's robotic arm. The capsule will be berthed to the Earth-facing side of the Harmony node. At the end of the mission, the crew will reverse the process, detaching Dragon from the station for its return to Earth and splashdown in the Pacific off the coast of California. If the rendezvous and attachment to the station are not successful, SpaceX will complete a third demonstration flight in order to achieve these objectives as originally planned.
Begun in 2006, NASA's COTS program is investing financial and technical resources to stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate safe, reliable and cost-effective space transportation capabilities.