SpaceX is poised to try igniting their Falcon-9 v1.1 booster again early tomorrow morning, kicking off the United States’ 2015 space launch manifest with the CRS-5 Dragon to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) after having resolved a technical issue which called off the first launch attempt days ago. The mission, which is the fifth such flight under SpaceX’s $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, aimed for a precise 1-second launch window, and came within less than two minutes before falling victim to a “HOLD HOLD HOLD” call by the launch team when drift on one of two “thrust vector actuators” was observed on the booster’s second stage.
The Hawthorne, CA-based company has released little details, only stating that they are proceeding with a Jan. 10 launch attempt, and so it’s all systems GO for another try at 4:47 a.m EST from Launch Complex-41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Fla. The current weather forecast calls for an 80% chance of acceptable conditions for launch and temperatures in the low 50’s, with the primary concern being thick clouds.
Dragon is packed with over 5,000 pounds of supplies, cargo and experiments for the Expedition 42 crew (and later Expedition 43) onboard the ISS, including critical materials to support 256 science and research investigation. A new set of 18 unique experiments from 18 student communities which were lost months ago when an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded seconds after liftoff are onboard, as well as NASA’s Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) remote sensing instrument, which will go to work on the ISS to investigate the layers and composition of clouds and small particles like dust, smoke, and other aerosols in the atmosphere to help scientists better understand how aerosols impact weather and climate across the planet. Another experiment being flown will study planarian flatworms, which are capable of rebuilding body organs and nervous systems after damage, to better understand the process of wound healing in space.
An IMAX camera is hitching a ride on Dragon to the ISS too for filming during four increments, along with various tools that will be used in future spacewalks to prepare the station for the installation of new international docking adapters.
The launch itself, however, will mark another historic first for SpaceX in an ever growing list of firsts that the company has accomplished in the last several years. At about 3:00 into flight the Falcon-9 first stage booster will separate as always, its job done, but instead of tumbling back to Earth for a watery grave in the Atlantic it will re-ignite and in an attempt to land on the company’s “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship” (ASDS), which is a barge positioned 200 miles offshore of the Florida / South Carolina border.
As noted by Ben Evans in our in-depth story on the first landing attempt on the ASDS, traveling at a velocity of 2,900 mph (4,670 km/h), the stabilization of the 150-foot-tall (46-meter) stage has been likened to someone balancing a rubber broomstick on their hand, in the middle of a fierce wind storm. Three Merlin engine firings will be executed in order to steadily reduce this velocity and stabilize the first stage: an initial “boost-back” burn will adjust the vehicle’s impact point, after which a “supersonic retro-propulsion” burn will slow it to about 560 mph (900 km/h) and a final “landing” burn will bring this down still further to just 4.5 mph (7.2 km/h). During the final burn, the first stage will deploy its four extendable landing legs and a quartet of lattice-like hypersonic grid fins—configured in an “X-wing” layout—will be unfurled to control the lift vector and, together with engine gimbaling, will enable a precise touchdown on the ASDS.
Follow our Launch Tracker for regular updates and live coverage throughout the countdown and launch!
Assuming a liftoff Saturday morning, Dragon would arrive at the $100 billion orbiting outpost on Monday, Jan. 12, with “capture” at 6:00 a.m. EST, followed by Dragon’s installation to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module later that morning.
If the launch is scrubbed Saturday the next available launch opportunity would be at 3:36 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 13.
Dragon is expected to remain at the ISS for 4 weeks, at which time it will return to Earth with more than 3,600 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, hardware and computer resources, science experiments, space station hardware, and trash.
Missions » ISS » COTS » CRS-5 »