Launch Day

Waiting... Credit: SpaceX

Credit: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are eagerly counting down to the launch of the CRS-8 resupply mission to the International Space Station later today. Liftoff, which must take place in an instantaneous window, is scheduled for 4:43 pm EDT from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40.

The CRS-8 mission will mark the third flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 Full Thrust, and the first to fly with a Dragon spacecraft. It will also be SpaceX’s first mission to ISS since the loss of the CRS-7 mission on June 28th, 2015.

Today’s launch will also feature another landing attempt at sea, which will take place some 185 NM northeast of Cape Canaveral aboard the automated spaceport drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

While NASA and its International Partners have seen the stock of on-orbit supplies and experiments aboard ISS return to healthy levels in recent months following a spate of mission failures which prevented Dragon, Cygnus and Progress cargo vessels from fulfilling their missions, NASA managers are particularly eager to see this Dragon get off the ground and on its way to the orbiting outpost due to the unique cargo return capability it offers.

With SpaceX having last brought back a Dragon in May, 2015, there are a number of critical return items, including blood and urine samples from astronaut Scott Kelly’s “year in space” that are waiting on a ride home.

SpaceX successfully completed a static fire test of the 9 Merlin 1-D first stage engines on Tuesday, reporting no difficulties with the process, which now includes super chilled lox and kerosene propellants offering greater density, and better performance, but coming at the cost of increased complexity in ground handling procedures.

In yet another interesting aspect of this mission, Dragon’s arrival at ISS will mark the first time both NASA commercial cargo vessels; SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital ATK’s Cygnus, will have been at the station at the same time. It will also mark another rare event, the presence of six separate Visiting Vehicles at ISS at the same time, something that hasn’t happened since 2011.

In addition to an assortment of food, supplies and experiments packed inside the Dragon’s pressure shell, including some 20 live (for now) mice which were “late loaded” yesterday as part of an Ely Lilly experiment, the spacecraft’s trunk is carrying Bigelow Aerospace’s Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, or BEAM. For a full breakdown on the innovative 2 year addition to ISS which holds so much promise for the future of space exploration, check out the related story, “A BEAMing Opportuntiy.”

If by chance today’s mission were to go awry in manner similar to the mid-air breakup that terminated SpaceX’s last flight to ISS, there is a reasonable chance that most of the cargo inside the Dragon’s pressure compartment will survive. Making good on SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s promise in the days following the CRS-7 mission, this Dragon will wide to orbit with its parachute deployment system activated. If misfortune strikes, the Dragon would hopefully make a soft landing preserving at least some of the hard work to fly again another day.

Posted in: SpaceX

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