SpaceX are in final preparations ahead of the CRS-11 Falcon 9 launch to the International Space Station, delivering several thousand pounds of science and supplies aboard the Dragon cargo spacecraft to the orbital outpost.
The Falcon 9 rocket is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 39A on June 1st at 17:55 EDT (22:55 BST). If all is successful, the Dragon spacecraft will rendezvous and capture on Sunday morning. SpaceX will be expecting to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 back at Cape Canaveral shortly after launch, an event that is becoming increasingly routine.
As with so many launches to the ISS, the cargo being delivered to the orbital outpost will provide the astronauts onboard with new supplies and scientific experiments. The unpressurised trunk of the spacecraft will be used to transport solar panels, tools for Earth observation, and equipment to study neutron stars.
This launch marks the first ever re-use of a Dragon spacecraft, and the first time that a previously flown spacecraft will arrive at the ISS since the final flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. The Dragon used will be the one previously flown on the CRS-4 mission in 2014. SpaceX hope that by being able to re-use the cargo Dragon spacecraft on a regular basis, focus can be shifted to the production of the crewed variant of the Dragon, set to launch crew from American soil to the International Space Station from late 2018.
Ever since CRS-9, Dragon launches to the ISS have been opportunities to attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 spacecraft back on land. If all goes to plan, roughly eight minutes after launch the 140 foot tall booster will touch down at Landing Zone 1, Cape Canaveral. So far all four landing attempts at LZ-1 have been a complete success, so SpaceX will be feeling extremely confident once again to nail the landing and have another core available for re-use in the potentially near future.
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The Falcon 9 rocket will blast off from SLC-40 on July 18 carrying the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. The launch will be the ninth in the Commercial Resupply Services contract, and will deliver essential supplies, equipment and experiments to the orbital outpost. The Falcon 9 is also set to attempt a land landing on LZ-1, which SpaceX hope will be successful following failure on the barge last time out.
SpaceX are currently targeting a launch date of July 18 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, with lift off expected at 00:45 ET (05:45 BST). Upon launch the nine Merlin 1D engines will ignite, lifting the 500,000 kg rocket away from the launchpad. The first stage of flight is expected to last 180 seconds, ending with stage separation. The single Merlin 1D-Vac engine will then ignite, putting the spacecraft into a low Earth orbit. This orbit will allow for a rendezvous and berthing with the ISS two days later.
For the second time ever we will see a landing attempt at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral. As the launch is to low Earth orbit, the Falcon 9 first stage has enough fuel to perform a land landing. Currently SpaceX has an 100% success rate at land landings, having landed the Orbcomm-2 Falcon 9 core at LZ-1 in December of last year, SpaceX’s first ever landing of any kind. Since then SpaceX has landed on the barge several times and has gained experience in core retrieval. Musk has said that he hopes to reuse a core later this year for a commercial customer.
The Dragon spacecraft will be filled with just under five-thousand pounds of supplies and scientific payloads set for the ISS. The new experiments arriving to the orbital laboratory will test the capabilities for sequencing DNA in space, spacecraft temperature regulation, understanding bone loss in space, and how the heart is affected by microgravity. The Dragon will also carry in its trunk the first of two International Docking Adapters to enable future commercial crew vehicles, such as SpaceX’s Crewed Dragon, to dock to the station.
The Commercial Resupply Services contract was awarded by NASA in 2008. The contract asked for twelve cargo transport missions to the ISS to be completed by SpaceX. After proving themselves worthy with COTS-1 and COTS-2 demo flights, NASA announced that SpaceX were now certified to begin transporting useful cargo to the ISS. Due to a reliable launch vehicle and stringent testing, SpaceX have so far managed to complete seven successful flights to the ISS, and there are many more to come! Unlike Orbital Science’s Cygnus, which also received flights in the CRS contract, the Dragon spacecraft has the ability to bring back cargo through a controlled descent and landing in the Pacific. This enables scientific experiments to be returned to Earth for full scale analysis.
Following the successful static fire test on Saturday, the rocket is set for launch in the early hours of Monday. If you aren’t able to watch it live, make sure to follow @CosmosRevealed for live text updates throughout the launch!