Dragon is one of two private American spacecraft that NASA hopes will be ready to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station by 2017. The other is the CST-100 capsule, which is being built by Boeing. Last September, NASA awarded SpaceX $2.6 billion and Boeing $4.2 billion to complete their development work on the two spacecraft and get them ready to fly.
Dragon and the CST-100 are being groomed to fill the crew-carrying shoes of NASA's space shuttle fleet, which retired in July 2011 after 30 years of service. The agency is currently dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get American astronauts to and from orbit.
On Wednesday, Dragon will sit atop a truss structure rather than SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. The test is unmanned, but Dragon will be carrying an instrument-studded dummy dubbed "Buster" that will measure a variety of forces. The capsule itself is also outfitted with 270 sensors, NASA officials said.
"There’s a lot of instrumentation on this flight — a lot, " Koenigsmann said. "Temperature sensors on the outside, acoustic sensors, microphones. This is basically a flying instrumentation deck. At the end of the day, that’s the point of tests — to get lots of data."
The data gathered during the test should be valuable even if the flight doesn't go entirely according to plan, NASA officials said.
NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services: A New Era in Spaceflight - History of International Space Station (ISS) Cargo and Crew, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Bigelow
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