The next SpaceX launch to the International Space Station has been shifted from a provisional No Earlier Than (NET) date of December 9th one week until December 16th, with backup dates on the 19th and 20th. Liftoff is scheduled at 2:31 pm EST.
NASA is still in the process of shuffling its payload assignments in response to the October 28th failure of the Orbital Sciences Antares booster carrying the Orb-3 freighter to ISS, and has not released a full manifest, but one item going uphill for sure is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) investigation, a LiDAR experiment which will be mounted on the exterior of the Japanese Experiment Module. CATS is designed to measure particulate matter in Earth’s atmosphere.
As is increasingly the case with Dragon flights to ISS, what it coming back down on launch day may be more significant than what is going up. Speaking at a MIT event in October, SpaceX founder Elon Musk indicated that the company had commissioned construction of a 170′ x 300′ barge to placed at sea in order to provide a landing platform for the returning Falcon V1.1 first stage. SpaceX has not indicated whether or not the barge, which Musk stated was being built in Louisiana will be in place in time for the flight. Even if it is, Musk assessed the odds of a successful landing on the first effort at under 50%.
Although the barge will be equipped with thrusters which can keep it in place, weather it likely to be a factor. SpaceX has not stated which firm is building the craft, although speculation has centered on Conrad Industries of Morgan City, Louisiana. Conrad is currently refurbishing and lengthening the NASA transport barge Pegasus, which after a long career of hauling Space Shuttle External Tanks, will now be tasked with carrying elements of the Space Launch System from Michoud to Cape Canaveral.
As the first Commercial Resupply Launch to take place after the Orbital failure, the SpaceX CRS-5 mission is likely to attract quite a bit of attention, and one could hardly imagine a more fitting rebound for the commercial space industry following that loss as well as the tragic destruction of SpaceShipTwo than if SpaceX actually succeeds in pulling off a first ever fully successful soft landing.
In case it does not however, here is a time lapse YouTube video released by SpaceX this week showing Falcon 9 tank construction at Hawthorne.