SpaceX will get back to restocking the International Space Station with its next cargo resupply mission slated for April 8th, NASA confirmed today. The company's Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 4:43PM ET that Friday.
SpaceX will also attempt one of its famous rocket landings
This will be the first time that SpaceX resupplies the ISS since the company's last attempted cargo mission in June 2015. That launch ended in failure, when SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated a little over two minutes after take off. The accident prompted SpaceX to ground its rocket fleet, but the company returned to flight in December and his since performed three successful launches.
SpaceX will also attempt one of its famous rocket landings shortly after this upcoming launch, according to CEO Elon Musk. The rocket's landing target will be a drone ship at sea again, according to SpaceX, and Musk said there's a "good chance" of sticking the landing this time. So far, SpaceX has only been able to land its rocket intact on solid ground post-launch, which the company demonstrated in December. Attempts to land the rocket on a drone ship at sea have all ended in explosions. If SpaceX can pull off a successful ocean landing, it means the company can potentially recover and reuse even more of its Falcon 9 rockets throughout the year.
An artist rendering of the BEAM in space. (Bigelow Aerospace)
Aside from its rocket landing attempt, this resupply mission will carry up some critical cargo. SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule, which is launching on top of the Falcon 9, will hold crew supplies and science experiments for the astronauts on board. It will also carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or the BEAM, built by Bigelow Aerospace. The BEAM is an inflatable habitat module that NASA plans to attach to the ISS. The module will ride up to space deflated and then once it docks to the station, it will inflate into a cylindrical module that's 13 feet long and more than 10 feet in diameter, according to Bigelow. The module will provide around 565 cubic feet of living area for the astronauts to move around.
And the SpaceX rocket isn’t the only important thing making a return trip to Earth. The Dragon capsule is also returning to our planet with some precious research. Once the spacecraft has resupplied the station, it will eventually be loaded up with body fluid samples from NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. Kelly recently spent 340 days aboard the ISS, as part of a study to see how long-term spaceflight affects the human body. During his trip, he took samples of his blood, saliva, urine, and feces, to help document how his body changed while in lower Earth orbit. The Dragon capsule is responsible for bringing those samples safely back to Earth for NASA researchers to study.
That means there is a lot riding on this mission, both on the way up and on the way back down.
Update March 18th, 2016, 11:41AM ET: The article has been updated to include that SpaceX will be attempting a drone ship landing.