by Chris Tobias
If we didn’t know better, we’d think SpaceX is celebrating Hanukkah in grand style. After all, it seems like they’re lighting a very big candle every day now!
With today’s launch of the SSO-A SmallSat Express, which was originally scheduled to launch from Vandenberg AFB in California on November 19, SpaceX is now on the verge of back-to-back launches on two consecutive days from two opposite coasts. That’s because the 16th resupply mission to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract that SpaceX has with NASA is scheduled to lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, December 4 at 1:38 PM EST (18:38 UTC).
At this time the weather appears to be favorable for the mission, which will have an instantaneous launch window. The Falcon 9 booster that will be used for this mission is a brand new Block 5 rocket. Its first stage will land at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral.
The Falcon 9 will carry a Dragon spacecraft loaded with 5,673 lbs. (2,573 kg) of supplies, scientific research equipment, experimental hardware and scientific investigations (a.k.a. experiments) that will aid the crews of Expeditions 57 and 58 in their work aboard the ISS. The timing of the launch is especially interesting since the Expedition 58 crew also launched earlier today aboard a Soyuz rocket. If all goes well, they will be aboard the ISS in time to assist the crew of Expedition 57 with the capture and unloading of the Dragon when it arrives at the station on December 6. Operating the Canadarm2 to grapple the Dragon and guide it to the station will be Expedition 57 Commander Alexander Gerst of Germany, who will surely feel like he’s receiving the biggest St. Nikolaus’ Day gift ever!
The Dragon is expected to remain berthed at the ISS for approximately five weeks. After the crew unpacks its current cargo and loads it full of completed experiments and other materials that are to be sent back to Earth, it will undock (if everything remains on schedule) on January 13, 2019, at which time it will return to Earth and splash down for recovery in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, California.
Peace, love and rockets…