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Article by: Emre Kelly
The Space Coast’s last launch of the year will spark several firsts for SpaceX and NASA when a Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday.
Teams are targeting 11:46 a.m. – an instantaneous window – for the launch of a Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 40 packed with thousands of pounds of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station.
Air Force meteorologists expect 90 percent “go” conditions on Tuesday and a slight dip to 80 percent “go” in the event of a delay to Wednesday. A possible violation of the liftoff winds rule was cited as the only concern for both days.
The liftoff will ignite a series of firsts: Launch Complex 40, which was heavily damaged in a September 2016 Falcon 9 explosion, will officially become operational since teams began restoration and infrastructure work. Improvements include concrete and steel hardening, cooling upgrades, a transition to underground infrastructure and hardware similar to SpaceX’s other pads to reduce complexity.
The 13th mission under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services Contract, labeled CRS-13, will mark the first time the agency uses one of SpaceX’s previously flown boosters. The first stage that originally flew in June of this year is expected to generate a window-rattling sonic boom on Tuesday as it descends to the Cape’s Landing Zone 1 about eight minutes after liftoff.
Tuesday’s rocket is important to SpaceX – aside from its previously flown first stage, the Dragon spacecraft transporting goods to the ISS is also used, making the vehicle the “most reused” in the history of the company’s reusability journey. The autonomous capsule flew to the ISS on a similar mission in April 2015.
“On Tuesday, SpaceX will attempt to re-fly both an orbital rocket and spacecraft for the first time,” company CEO Elon Musk said via Instagram last week.
Musk sees rocket reusability as the key to lowering launch costs, increasing access to space and achieving his ultimate vision of a self-sustaining human colony on Mars.
The company does have one final mission on the books for this year: A liftoff of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Dec. 22.
Next month, SpaceX is expected to resume attempts at launching its secretive Zuma mission from Launch Complex 40, which was delayed due to technical issues. The company also hopes to launch its three-core, 27-engine Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A early next year.
Contact Emre Kelly at email@example.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at @EmreKelly.