WASHINGTON — Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) said Dec. 3 that it expects to launch its cargo-carrying Dragon capsule on its first flight to the international space station (ISS) sometime between May and November 2010.

In a press release, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company said it had conducted Dragon operations training in October for a group of NASA astronauts to bring them up to speed on how the ISS crew will interface with the capsule while it is approaching and berthed to the station.

“Three of the participating astronauts — Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock — will be on board the ISS when Dragon makes its first visit under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program,” SpaceX said in the release.

SpaceX developed Dragon in part with NASA funding provided under the COTS program.

The three named astronauts have been assigned to the Expedition 24 crew slated to be aboard the station between May and November 2010.

“This was the first time the NASA astronauts who will interact with Dragon during its early mission were actually inside a Dragon flight vehicle,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said in the release.

SpaceX is under contract to NASA to conduct three COTS demo flights, to be followed by 12 cargo flights between 2010 and 2015.

Dragon’s launch vehicle, the Falcon 9 rocket, is expected to make its debut in early 2010. That mission will carry aloft a Dragon capsule, but it will not rendezvous with the space station.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...