SpaceX rocket launches towards the International Space Station

The capsule is expected to reach the International Space Station on Sunday

The new capsule blasted off aboard the Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX - run by billionaire Elon Musk - at 2.49am from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, lighting up the coastline.

The SpaceX rocket took off this morning from Florida carrying only a test dummy.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the unmanned Crew Dragon capsule on its nose sits at Kennedy Space Center. The next step is for Crew Dragon to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday and offload its cargo, before returning to Earth 5 days later.

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, slated to be on the first SpaceX test flight with humans, said the prospect of the mission "is pretty exciting".

Every successful stage of the mission - whose planning suffered three-year delays - triggered cheers at the firm's headquarters and at the Kennedy Space Center.

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"We're going to have more access to space at a better cost than at any point in human history", said Bridenstine, adding he was "100 per cent confident" that a manned flight would happen by year's end.

SpaceX's live stream starts from 12am on March 1 and cycles through preparation stages and launch before the capsule goes into orbit. That includes interior life-support systems, autonomous docking capability, an integrated launch escape system, and solar panels built into the spacecraft itself.

If the trip goes off without a hitch and all goes to plan with a subsequent emergency escape test, SpaceX will begin transporting astronauts to the ISS later this year.

For SpaceX, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment.

The Demo-1 mission, SpaceX's inaugural flight with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, will provide the teams an end-to-end flight test to ensure the spacecraft and systems operate as designed before launching with astronauts. "It's different", said Mark Geyer, director of the Johnson Space Center, where United States astronauts are based.

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The mission, called Demonstration-1 or DM-1, is meant to show NASA that Crew Dragon is safe for future human crew members.

The Falcon 9 blasts off, carrying Crew Dragon for the first time. He marvels at how the Dragon has just 30 buttons and touch screens, compared with the space shuttle cockpit's 2,000 switches and circuit breakers.

"We're only partway through the mission", Musk said.

"But we also want to make sure we have our own capability to get back and forth to the International Space Station".

Saturday's flight "is the next critical step in putting people on Dragon", he said. "And then re-entry", Musk said at a press conference, held in the Kennedy Space Center, when asked which stages of the Dragon 2 mission he anxious about most.

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