This still image from an animated video shows SpaceX's Dragon capsule in orbit.
updated 5/22/2012 3:40:32 PM ET 2012-05-22T19:40:32

The private spaceflight company SpaceX successfully launched an unmanned capsule on a test flight to the International Space Station early Tuesday, and there's a chance you can spot it in the night sky as it orbits overhead.

SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and will now spend the next three days chasing down the orbiting outpost. The unmanned space capsule is on a test flight to demonstrate its ability to fly commercial cargo delivery runs to the orbiting lab under a NASA contract with SpaceX.

"Sightings of the Dragon cargo craft before docking may be possible over your area," NASA officials announced in a skywatching alert.

The International Space Station is the largest man-made object in space, and can even rival the dazzling planet Venus in brightness. But even other smaller spacecraft, such as NASA's now-retired space shuttles and Russian Soyuz capsules, have been spotted from the ground before. [Photos: SpaceX's Dragon Launches Into Space]

And Dragon is no exception.

NASA's SkyWatch website, which lists times and dates of spacecraft passes over major cities, has added the Dragon capsule to its list of spacecraft. In Los Angeles, for example, Dragon will fly overhead on Wednesday at 2:55 a.m. and 4:27 a.m. PDT. New Yorkers will also get two chances on Wednesday to see Dragon when it passes over Manhattan at 2:50 a.m. and 4:23 a.m. EDT.

In Houston, home of NASA's space station Mission Control, the Dragon capsule will be visible only on Thursday morning at 4 a.m. EDT, according to NASA's guide.

If all goes well, Dragon will approach and dock with the space station on Friday, merging into the brightness of the orbiting lab.

For more information on when and where to look from your hometown, check out these three websites:

Each will ask for your ZIP code or city, and will respond with a list of suggested spotting times. Predictions computed a few days ahead of time are usually accurate within a few minutes. However, they can change, so be sure to check frequently for updates.

NASA / Rick Wetherington, Tim Powers and Tim Terry
On Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Space Launch Complex-40 is ablaze as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at 3:44 a.m. Tuesday.

Another good resources is Real Time Satellite Tracking, which shows what part of the Earth the space station and other spacecraft happen to be overhead at any given moment during the day or night.  

SpaceX's Dragon capsule is carrying just over 1,000 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station, but cannot dock itself at the orbiting lab. Instead, the capsule will fly near the station on Friday and allow astronauts aboard the outpost to grab it with a robotic arm and attach the vehicle to an open docking port.

The space stations' six-man crew is expected to enter the gumdrop-shaped spacecraft on Saturday. SpaceX plans to have the Dragon capsule return to Earth on May 31, when it is due to splash down in the Pacific Ocean and be retrieved by a recovery ship crew.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion NASA contract to provide 12 Dragon flights to deliver supplies to the space station. It is one of several NASA contracts aimed at filling American space transportation needs now that the agency's shuttle fleet is retired.

Editor's note: If you snap amazing photos of the Dragon capsule in orbit that you'd like to be considered for use in a story or gallery, please send pictures and comments to Managing Editor Tariq Malik at

Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Video: SpaceX rocket lifts off for space station

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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