After a month-long break from spaceflight, SpaceX will attempt to launch one of its Falcon 9 rockets to the International Space Station this afternoon. The rocket is set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, sending cargo and science experiments to the six astronauts currently living in space. And as per usual, SpaceX plans to land the majority of the Falcon 9 back on solid ground after take off.
This launch marks SpaceX’s 12th cargo resupply mission for NASA and its 11th rocket launch of 2017. SpaceX has been ramping up its launch cadence this year but has been on a hiatus for the majority of July. The break was partially prompted by a temporary closure for maintenance of the Eastern Range — the areas on the US East Coast that support rocket launches. The range includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
That maintenance was completed on July 18th, according to NASA Spaceflight, and now the Florida launch sites are prepping for a busy month ahead. The first mission out of the East Coast was supposed to be the launch of a NASA communications satellite, TDRS-M, on top of the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket. It was originally scheduled for August 3rd, but was postponed to August 18th after an antenna on the vehicle broke and had to be replaced. Once TDRS-M launches, one of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur rockets is scheduled to fly from Florida later this month.
But first up is today’s resupply mission: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will be lofting the company’s Dragon cargo capsule, filled with more than 6,400 pounds of cargo and experiments. Those include a supercomputer from Hewlett Packard Enterprises, as well as an experiment to measure cosmic ray particles in space, called Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass, or ISS-CREAM (as NASA calls it). In keeping with that theme, the Dragon will also have extra frozen ice cream on board for the astronauts, according to NASA.
Today’s flight is scheduled to get off the ground at 12:31PM ET from the pad at LC39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It’s an instantaneous launch window, so SpaceX has only one shot to get this Falcon 9 into space. If it does launch, the first stage of the Falcon 9 — the 14-story core of the rocket that contains the main engines and most of the fuel — will separate from the rest of the vehicle and attempt to land back on Earth about 10 minutes after launch. This time, the rocket’s target is Landing Zone 1, SpaceX’s landing pad at Cape Canaveral. So far, SpaceX has successfully landed all of its rockets that have attempted ground landings there.
After launch, the Dragon is slated to rendezvous with the space station on Wednesday. It’ll then stay docked to the ISS for about a month, before returning to Earth with more than 3,000 pounds of samples and other cargo that need to get back to the ground.
If SpaceX doesn’t fly today, however, the launch will have to slip to around August 19th or 20th. That’s because the Russian cosmonauts have a planned spacewalk on Thursday, which could conflict with the Dragon meeting up with the station. So far, weather is looking okay, with a 70 percent chance that conditions will be favorable for a flight. Check back here at 12PM ET to watch NASA and SpaceX’s coverage of the launch live.