SpaceX’s Dragon capsule flew close below the International Space Station on Thursday morning, completing tests it needed to pass before attempting to berth at the outpost Friday morning.
A communications link was lost as the commercial cargo craft passed less than two miles below around 7:30 a.m., but cameras caught the first approach to the station by a commercial vehicle.
The Dragon appeared first as a small dot against a cloudy Earth. As it flew to within 1.5 miles, its solar array wings could clearly be seen.
Earlier, station crew members successfully tested their ability to send commands to the unmanned Dragon during the berthing operation.
Just before 7 a.m., European astronaut Andre Kuipers commanded the Dragon to turn on its strobe light as it closed with a few miles of the station. He later turned it off.
After the “fly-under,” the Dragon will fire thrusters to begin a long loop out in front, above and then behind the station, putting it in position for another rendezvous early Friday.
The demonstration mission has already received high-level congratulations on its progress so far.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported receiving a call from President Barack Obama on Wednesday night.
“The President just called to say congrats,” Musk said on Twitter. “Caller ID was blocked, so at first I thought it was a telemarketer :)”
The demonstration mission hopes to prove SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule can safely start commercial cargo deliveries to the station under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.