Update December 5th, 2:45PM ET: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida and deployed the Dragon cargo capsule into orbit. However, the company failed to land the rocket after launch, the first time a Falcon 9 has botched an attempted ground landing. Today’s mission does mark SpaceX’s 20th of 2018 — the most flights the company has done in a single year.
Original Story: Just two days after launching from California, SpaceX will send another one of its Falcon 9 rockets into orbit from Florida this afternoon. The vehicle will carry supplies for the astronauts on board the International Space Station. It marks the 16th cargo resupply mission that SpaceX will launch for NASA since 2012. And, as usual, SpaceX will perform one of its signature rocket landings after takeoff, touching down on a concrete landing pad near the vehicle’s launch site.
On top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will be one of the company’s Dragon cargo capsules, filled with 5,600 pounds of food, water, supplies, and experiments for the six-member crew of the ISS. For this mission, SpaceX is using a Dragon that’s flown once before during the company’s 10th resupply mission in February 2017. The capsule spent a month docked to the ISS before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, where it was retrieved and then refurbished prior to this flight.
There are hundreds of different research experiments and technology demonstrations going up on this launch. One of these payloads will help test out processes needed when future spacecraft are sent into space to refuel satellites. The payload, known as Robotic Refueling Mission-3, will test out transferring super cold propellants in orbit, mimicking how a servicing spacecraft might fill up the tank of a satellite already in space. Another payload called GEDI will sit on the outside of the station and beam lasers down to Earth to measure the height of our planet’s forests. The goal is to better understand how deforestation is adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and how new, growing trees are capturing the gas.
Originally, this launch was slated to go up on Tuesday, however, the flight had to be pushed back due to some contaminated cargo. The University of Colorado at Boulder is sending up live mice to the ISS, and engineers noticed that some of the animals’ food bars, provided by NASA Ames Research Center, had some mold on them. “We’re assuming all the food is suspect,” Joel Montalbano, the deputy ISS program manager, said during a pre-launch press conference on Monday. The bars needed to be replaced before the flight, but it took too long to load the new nourishment, prompting a one-day delay of the launch.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is slated to liftoff at 1:16PM ET this afternoon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company has an instantaneous launch window, too, so the rocket must take off at that exact time or launch another day. So far, the weather might cooperate for the mission, as there’s a 90 percent chance conditions will be favorable, according to the 45th Space Wing, which oversees launches from the Cape.
Following takeoff, the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will return to the Cape and touch down at one of the company’s concrete landing pads, Landing Zone 1. As for the Dragon, it will meet up with the International Space Station early on Saturday morning. That’s when astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to grab the Dragon and connect it to the ISS. The capsule is slated to stay about a month before leaving the station and returning to Earth with results of numerous experiments.
Both NASA and SpaceX will provide live coverage of the launch. NASA’s live stream begins at 12:45PM ET, and SpaceX’s live stream will start about 20 minutes prior to takeoff. Check back then to the video of your choice to watch this launch live.