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SpaceX moves step closer to docking with International Space Station

SpaceX, the world's first private delivery spaceship, has come within 1.5 miles of the International Space Station in a fly-by exercise ahead of this week's hook-up.

spaceX 2012 5 24Enlarge
SpaceX's Falcon 9 spacecraft, with the Dragon reusable capsule, sits on the launch pad on May 18, 2012 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images)

SpaceX, the world's first private delivery spaceship, has come within 1.5 miles of the International Space Station in a fly-by exercise ahead of this week's planned docking.

The fly-by was confirmed by NASA in a webcast, broadcast by several news organizations.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule has a number of onboard sensors and flight systems that must be tested to determine whether the vehicle is ready to berth with the ISS on Friday, the LA Times wrote.

It is a critical step for the company, officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., and its goal of becoming the world's first private firm to dock a craft with the space station.

The Dragon is the first US vessel to visit the space station since NASA's shuttles were retired last summer, and the only private vehicle.

Missions mounted by Russia, Europe and Japan have also been supplying the space station.

The US aims to turn such tasks over to the private sector so that NASA can concentrate on destinations farther afield, like asteroids and Mars.

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Beginning after midnight, NASA and SpaceX will begin a series of maneuvers to bring Dragon close enough to be grappled by the station's robotic arm. This will all be televised on NASA-TV and streamed on the SpaceX and NASA websites.

Provided that happens, the ISS crew will have a week to unload the contents before releasing the spacecraft for re-entry, CBC reported.

SpaceX is designed to then return to Earth with experiments and equipment.

The Dragon was launched into space on Tuesday aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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