CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX will launch the Dragon spacecraft containing NASA cargo to the International Space Station today in the first unmanned mission with an upgraded spacecraft.
At 11:17 am EDT (1617 GMT) today (December 6), the previously flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will fly into the skies from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. A two tier launcher will be launched from Pad 39 using a robot Dragon cargo capsule carrying over 6,400 lbs. (2,903 kilograms) of new supplies, experimental hardware and other equipment for the astronauts aboard the orbiting lab.
You can watch the launch live here and on the homepage of Space.com, courtesy of NASA, starting at 10:45 am EST (1545 GMT). You can also watch live via NASA TV or SpaceX.
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Today’s launch attempt comes 24 hours after SpaceX pulled back from its original launch date on December 5. The slip was due to bad weather conditions in the recovery zone. SpaceX relies heavily on its fleet of second-hand rocket boosters, so the company wants to ensure that these rockets can land on the drone ship safely and safely from the return trip to port.
The weather outlook did not support Saturday’s efforts, with forecasters at the 45th Weather Squadron estimating a 50% chance. favorable conditions to take off. The main concerns are dense clouds and cumulus clouds; however, the fierce sea waves in the landing zone proved too risky. So officials decided that it was best to wait 24 hours for better conditions.
Today’s attempt is the first of two potential reserve attempts as forecasts increase to 70% profitable. There are other opportunities on Tuesday if the rocket cannot take off today. If neither of the two chances are successful, then the team will have to retreat for 10 days because staging with the space station is not ideal for anchoring.
The flight was the first supply mission under SpaceX second commercial supply service contract with NASA and the first to use the upgraded Dragon cargo plane. The ship is the same as its astronaut counterpart, Crew Dragon, and can carry more cargo than the previous iteration.
SpaceX is now one of three commercial partners that will send cargo to the space station. (Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada are the other two.) Under the first round of a CRS contract awarded in 2008, Northrop (then ATK orbitals) and SpaceX delivered more than 93,800 kilograms of cargo to the ISS over 31 missions at a cost of approximately $ 6 billion.
With this second round of contracts, and three providers, NASA will order missions as needed and the total price paid will depend on the type of mission ordered. The agency said that the maximum potential value of all the contracts was $ 14 billion.
Tucked inside the cargo plane is a bevy of research experiments and crew supplies that will support a number of science investigations focused on life sciences, regenerative medicine, and more.
Bristol Myers Squibb sends a charge that will see the crystallization of proteins in microgravity. To that end, the company sends various types of immune system proteins, called monoclonal antibody, going to space. This type of protein targets cancer cells, and researchers hope this investigation will help improve drug therapy and the manufacturing process.
The National Institutes of Health dispatches three different payloads focused on network chips in outer space. Network chips is a small device used to grow human cells in outer space to study the onset of disease. Because of the effects of microgravity, this type of experimentation could help researchers better understand disease progression and could lead to the development of new treatments.
One of these investigation will include tissue samples from the Central Floridians. Thanks to a partnership between Advent Health and the University of Florida, a bundle of skeletal muscles affixed to a tissue chip will travel to the orbital post.
This sample will help researchers to better understand how muscles atrophy in the absence of gravity. This research has land-based and space-based implications. While in orbit, astronauts exercise every day to help combat bone and muscle loss, as do older patients and patients with muscle wasting disease on Earth. By better understanding physical processes, researchers can come up with better therapies to help reduce muscle loss.
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This is the first time SpaceX has launched an upgraded version of its cargo ship. The gumdrop-shaped ship will launch from the same runway the four astronauts launched last month. Upon arriving at the station, it will mark the first (but not the last) time that two Dragon spacecraft will be mounted into an orbital post.
This Dragon version differs slightly from the total crew version in that it lacks the essential systems needed to maintain human safety: a life support system, an emergency escape system, and a control panel to manually fly the aircraft if necessary. Instead this Dragon is a cosmic propulsion truck, delivering supplies to the crew.
Previously, the Dragon cargo mission had been launched from another SpaceX runway, Space Launch Complex 40 just down the road at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but now all Dragons (Crew and Cargo) will be launched from the same runway: 39A.
SpaceX leased these pads from NASA in 2014, and thanks to the infrastructure upgrades needed to launch astronauts, this location is now Dragon’s main hub. The Pad 39A features a futuristic-looking walkway known as the Crew access arm. Although designed as a means for astronauts to board their spacecraft, the trails serve another purpose – an access point for researchers to load sensitive equipment and payloads that cannot be packed in an airplane for long. (Like rodents or living cells.)
This type of payload is loaded hours before the rocket is launched. Previous versions of the Dragon required rockets to be placed horizontally on the tarmac to load cargo, but now that has changed. Crew can now load Dragons when it’s vertical, thanks to trusted new arm access.
“We are designed to exit LC 39 A for Cargo Dragon’s upgraded flight,” said Sarah Walker, Dragon’s director of mission management at SpaceX at a pre-launch press conference on Dec. 4. “That’s a big advantage for us.”
“This allows us to be able to carry out late loads when the vehicle is vertical and allows us to do it closer to T-zero,” he added. “So yes, all Dragon missions will come out of LC 39A.”
Today’s launch marks 101st flight overall for SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. Takeoff is expected to feature a first-stage Falcon 9 veteran, named B1058, who has three flights under his belt. This frequent flyer was launched before two NASA astronauts en route to the space station and a communication satellites for the South Korean military, and company-owned pools Starlink satellites.
Booster flying before has become commonplace for SpaceX, as the company continues to prove the reliability of the Falcon 9. In fact, this mission marked the 24th flight of 2020 for SpaceX, with most of those missions having flown veteran rockets rather than new ones.
To date, SpaceX has managed to get the first stage boost 67 times. Now that the company has two fully operational drone landing platforms – “Of Course I Still Love You” and “Read Only Instructions” – in Florida, it’s capable of launching (and landing) more rockets. The veteran, “Of course I still love you,” was already in the recovery zone awaiting his turn to catch up to B1058 when he returned to Earth this afternoon.
Since this is a Dragon mission, the company’s fairing catcher is off, but the Dragon’s recovery ship, GO Navigator is stationed in the Atlantic along with a drone ship, awaiting today’s launch attempt.
If all goes according to plan, the Dragon will arrive at the station and dock at the port facing the Harmony module space roughly 27 hours after exploding.
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