SpaceX is gearing up for its next launch this week, and this one is taking place well past bedtime (at least for those of us on the East Coast). The company's Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch a Japanese communications satellite, JCSAT-14, from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 1:21AM ET on Friday. The launch was originally scheduled for Thursday, but was pushed back due to weather concerns. As usual, the company will try to land the majority of its rocket on a floating drone ship at sea.
Rocket reentry is a lot faster and hotter than last time, so odds of making it are maybe even, but we should learn a lot either way— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 6, 2016
The Falcon 9 is meant to deliver the JCSAT-14 satellite to a very elliptical orbit high above the Earth’s surface, called a geostationary transfer orbit. This high orbit is the reason that SpaceX doesn't expect the rocket landing to happen. The company originally said that "the first-stage [of the rocket] will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing unlikely." But Musk has since given it even odds on Twitter. Additionally, getting to GTO uses up a lot more fuel than getting to lower Earth orbit. The rocket has to reach higher speeds to get up to the higher orbit, eating up a lot of fuel on the vehicle's initial ascent. That leaves less leftover fuel for the rocket's return to Earth.
SpaceX finally pulled off its first drone ship landing in April, after many failed attempts over the past year and a half. It was the second time the company has landed a rocket post-launch; the first time was in December, when the Falcon 9 touched down on solid ground at Cape Canaveral after launching a satellite into space. SpaceX has said that land landings are only possible for certain types of missions, while drone ship landings are better for missions that go to higher speeds. The company is going to need to master both landing types if it wants to recover and reuse as many of its rockets as possible.
Despite SpaceX's low expectations for the landing, there is a 90 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch itself, according to Patrick Air Force Base. The JCSAT-14 satellite going up on this mission is meant to provide telecommunications coverage to Japan and Asia-Pacific regions, according to the probe's manufacturer, the JSAT Corporation. Check back here Friday morning to watch the launch and landing attempt live (if you're not asleep).
Update 10:27AM ET: Due to the potential for bad weather, SpaceX has pushed back the launch to Friday at 1:21AM ET.