Thursday, April 17, 2014

SpaceX Launch Set For Friday, April 18

Falcon 9.  Photo Credit: Spacex.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- NASA, along with its International Space Station partners, and SpaceX have scheduled the Falcon 9 launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for Friday, April 18, 2014 at 3:25 p.m. EDT.

This SpaceX-3 mission will deliver a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station  carrying about 4,600 pounds of science and research, crew supplies, vehicle hardware and spacewalk tools to support the ISS crew and more than 150 scientific investigations planned for ISS Expeditions 39 and 40.

SpaceX Launch Weather

The most recent forecast issued by the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts only a 40% chance of overall permissible weather conditions for the SpaceX Falcon 9 Friday launch.  The primary weather concerns for launch are lightning, thick clouds, and precipitation.  

If the Falcon 9 launch is scrubbed on Friday, SpaceX will attempt another launch on  Saturday, April 19, at 3:02 p.m. where weather chances improve to a 60% chance of overall permissible conditions for launch.

A First for SpaceX

SpaceX could make space history once again with this launch. This time, with a controlled descent of the Falcon 9's first stage.  Approximately 161 seconds into flight, the first-stage engines will shut down, an event known as main-engine cutoff, or MECO.  At that point, Falcon 9 is 80 kilometers (50 miles) high, traveling at 10 times the speed of sound.  Three seconds after MECO, the first and second stages will separate.

After separation, landing legs will be extended into a 60-foot span from the first stage. SpaceX will then attempt a controlled descent (with the help of retro rockets) of the first stage into the Atlantic Ocean.   The ultimate goal of this test is to create a reusable first-stage booster rocket that would decrease the overall launch costs.

Once in orbit, the Dragon capsule will rendezvous with the space station where it will be grappled and berthed to the complex for an expected four-week visit.  

Dragon is later scheduled to return to Earth for a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California. It will be bringing back more than 3,600 pounds of experiment samples and equipment.