SpaceX on Thursday is expected to roll a Falcon 9 rocket to its Kennedy Space Center launch pad in preparation for an early Saturday launch of a new American spacecraft designed to carry astronauts.
At KSC late Wednesday, mission managers concluded a readiness review with a “go” to proceed toward a 2:49 a.m. Saturday liftoff of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on the mission called Demo-1.
The demonstration mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aims to send the capsule, with only a spacesuited test dummy on board, to the International Space Station for a five-day stay.
It’s the first test flight for the program seeking to restore the nation’s ability fly astronauts in orbit, nearly eight years after the space shuttle’s retirement left the agency dependent on Russia to ferry crews to and from the space station.
Boeing, NASA’s other commercial crew partner, plans to fly a similar uncrewed test flight as soon as April.
If those tests and others go well, the companies could be ready to launch test crews by August.
The weather forecast remains 80 percent favorable for Saturday’s instantaneous launch window, according to the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, with a small chance of clouds posing a problem.
If the mission cannot launch Saturday, the next possible attempt would be at 1:38 a.m. on Tuesday, March 5.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and a group of astronauts assigned to fly future Crew Dragon missions are expected to visit Kennedy to watch the launch.
After liftoff from historic Launch Complex 39A, the former home of Saturn V moon rockets and space shuttles, SpaceX will attempt to land the rocket booster at sea, on the unpiloted ship “Of Course I Still Love You.”
Although Falcon boosters launching cargo-carrying Dragons to the space station have made land landings, NASA and SpaceX are taking a conservative approach and reserving all of this rocket’s fuel for the ride uphill.
The Crew Dragon would target a rendezvous with the station early Sunday, aiming to dock around 6 a.m. and be welcomed by the three-person Expedition 58 crew hours later.
Wednesday’s launch readiness review apparently resolved Russian officials’ concern with software that will guide the Crew Dragon’s approach to the outpost flying 250 miles overhead.
NASA had said it did not expect that concern to hold up the mission, though it was registered as a dissenting opinion during last week’s flight readiness review.
After a five-day stay, the Crew Dragon would return to an Atlantic Ocean splashdown off the coast of Florida on Friday, March 8.
Source: Florida Today