A private spaceflight company will launch its third robotic resupply mission to the International Space Station next week.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's unmanned Dragon vehicle loaded down with supplies is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. This will be SpaceX's third official flight to the station under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly 12 missions to the orbiting outpost using the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. You can watch the SpaceX launch live on Space.com via NASA TV starting at 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT) on April 14. Launch is scheduled for 4:58 EDT (2058 GMT).
Dragon will fly to the station loaded down with 5,000 lbs. of cargo and scientific experiments, according to NASA. The supplies include legs for Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot designed to eventually assist astronauts on the station with their day-to-day tasks. SpaceX initially aimed to launch the Dragon delivery mission in March, but damage to a ground-based U.S. Air Force radar station used to support Florida launches delayed the flight. [See photos of SpaceX's third resupply trip to the station]
"These new legs, funded by NASA's Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates, will provide R2 [Robonaut 2] the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the space station," NASA officials said in a statement on March 12. "The goal is to free up the crew for more critical work, including scientific research."
SpaceX's Dragon will stay attached to the station's Harmony module until mid-May when it will detach and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, NASA officials said. When it splashes down, Dragon is expected to be carrying about 3,000 lbs. of experiments and equipment that can be recovered on Earth.
At the moment, Dragon capsules are the only robotic cargo vehicles capable of bringing supplies back to Earth from the orbiting outpost. Other robotic spacecraft like Russia's Progress vehicles or Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicles can deliver supplies to the station, but are designed to burn up in Earth's atmosphere after leaving port.
NASA also has contract with Orbital Sciences to fly cargo missions to the station using the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The Dulles, Va.-based company has a $1.9 billion deal with the space agency for eight unmanned flights.
If launch occurs on time, Dragon is due to arrive at the station at around 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) on April 16. If the SpaceX launch does not occur on time, there will be another opportunity for launch on April 18.