All systems are go for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch Sunday, with favorable weather forecasts making it likely the transport vehicle will blast off, on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the Earth. The mission will encompass SpaceX’s third attempt to land a rocket booster on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Falcon 9 rocket will be loaded with 4,000 pounds of supplies and scientific equipment for ISS crew members, who will conduct experiments on behalf of NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency. The payload includes material necessary to take high-resolution video of near-Earth meteors.
SpaceX will also attempt to land one of the Falcon 9’s rocket boosters on a specially designed ocean platform, a task the aerospace company admitted is “uncertain” to succeed. It will be the firm’s third attempt at landing a booster on a barge: Previous efforts in January and April resulted in crashes.
“These landing attempts move us toward our goal of producing a fully and rapidly reuasable rocket system, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space transport,” SpaceX, founded and led by Elon Musk, said in a statement this week. “A jumbo jet costs about the same as one of our Falcon 9 rockets, but airlines don’t junk a plane after a one-way trip from L.A. to New York. Yet, when it comes to space travel, rockets fly once -- even though the rocket itself represents the majority of launch cost.”
The launch is scheduled for 10:21 a.m. EDT at Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX has maintained that the landing attempts are nothing more than experiments, a claim that’s done little to dampen the enthusiasm within the spacecentric community.
Musk, who turns 44 Sunday, named the landing barge “Of Course I Still Love You,” a reference to science-fiction writer Iain M. Banks’ novel, “The Player of Games.”
The trip to the ISS is SpaceX’s seventh of the 12 specified by the company’s contract with NASA.