If the forecasted rain showers and thunderstorms around Cape Canaveral hold off long enough to permit it (about a 60% likelihood), SpaceX will launch another Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket just after 4:33pm EDT today. The mission, which is the sixth commercial re-supply mission to the International Space Station, also has the potential to make history, as SpaceX will once again attempt to recover the first stage of its Falcon 9 booster on a drone-controlled barge stationed offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
If the launch goes ahead as planned, the Falcon 9 will deploy the Dragon approximately ten minutes after liftoff, and the capsule will rendezvous with the ISS around 7am EDT on Wednesday morning.
The Dragon will deliver over two tons of supplies, provisions and experiments to the station. Included in the payload will be a new Arkyd 3 (a Planetary Resources mini-telescope of the type that was previously supposed to be delivered to the ISS in October of last year, but was destroyed when the Antares rocket carrying it to the ISS exploded shortly after liftoff), as well as the first espresso machine in space, intended for use by the station’s astronauts.
Just about a minute before the Falcon 9 deploys the Dragon in orbit, its first stage will attempt to land vertically on the bullseye that’s painted on the deck of SpaceX’s robot barge that will be waiting approximately 200 miles offshore in the Atlantic. This will be SpaceX’s second attempt to stick the landing of a Falcon 9 booster. (The first near miss last year, while unsuccessful, was nonetheless both spectacular and interesting.) If successful, the landing will usher in a new era of rocket reusability, something that NASA has been lacking since the retirement of the Space Shuttle.
Live coverage of the launch will be available online at nasa.gov and spacex.com. And if you’re on the East Coast of the US and just the right kind of lucky, you might even be able to catch a glimpse of the launch live from your yard!
Of course, we’ll be following it all with you as it unfolds and providing live updates on Twitter. (Follow us at @TakeBacktheSky.)
Here’s to a shiny day and a successful launch!
Peace, love and rockets…