Space fans, rejoice! If you're a rocket launch fan (and really, who isn't?), the next two days are your jam. Starting tonight, four different rockets are scheduled to launch from four different spaceports by Thursday (June 1). All of this will happen over the span of 24 hours, then be capped off on Friday with a spaceship landing and you can watch the events live online.
The space launch action, which you can watch on Space.com here, starts tonight (May 31) at Japan's Tanegashima Space Center on the island of Tanegashima. At 8:17 p.m. EDT tonight (0017 GMT on June 1, or 9:17 a.m. on June 1 local time), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch an H-2A rocket to send the Michibiki 2 navigation satellite into orbit.
You can watch JAXA's launch directly via YouTube here and on Space.com. The webcast will begin at 7:50 p.m. EDT (2350 GMT). The Michibiki 2 is Japan's second navigation satellite for the country's growing Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) constellation. The satellite will provide GPS-like services for Japan and the surrounding regions. [How to See a Rocket Launch in Person This Summer]
NASA rocket launch next
(Editor's note: NASA has delayed the sounding rocket launch to Saturday, June 3, at 4:26 a.m. EDT (0826 GMT) due to cloud cover preventing camera observation of the launch.)
After JAXA's launch, you'll have a few hours to nap before the next rocket launch, which will happen early Thursday morning. A sounding rocket will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, at 4:27 a.m. EDT (0827 GMT). The NASA Wallops launch webcast will begin at 3:30 a.m. EDT (0730 GMT).
During the Wallops launch, a small Terrier-Improved Malemute sounding rocket will launch an experiment to create artificial glowing clouds in the predawn sky. The rocket will eject small canisters at altitudes of 92 and 124 miles (148 and 199 kilometers) in order to test the canister ejection system itself, NASA officials said in a statement. The canisters will release tracers of barium, strontium and cupric oxide that should create a glowing vapor in the atmosphere.
You can watch this webcast on Space.com (or directly from NASA Wallops' Ustream feed), but you may be able to see this rocket launch — and the glowing clouds it spawns — with your own eyes, depending on where you live. If weather permits (meaning if there are no clouds), the launch should be visible to observers on the U.S. East Coast between New York and North Carolina, NASA officials said.
SpaceX Dragon set to soar
After the Wallops launch, you'll get another break before back-to-back launches.
At 5:55 p.m. EDT (2155 GMT), a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station on a delivery mission for NASA. The launch will blast off from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and will be webcast on NASA TV, and likely via SpaceX's webcast page as well. The launch webcast begins at 5:15 p.m. EDT (2155 GMT) and will be followed by a post-launch press conference at 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT).
SpaceX will launch nearly 6,000 lbs. (2,721 kilograms) of food and supplies for astronauts living on the International Space Station. The mission will mark SpaceX's 11th cargo delivery for NASA, and will drop off innovative new hardware, such as the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) experiment to test space navigation using pulsars.
SpaceX may attempt a Falcon 9 rocket landing with this launch, which will also mark the company's first mission to reuse a Dragon capsule.
Ariane 5 rocket closes the night
The European launch provider Arianespace will close the rocket marathon tomorrow night with the launch of two commercial communications satellites aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. This launch will blast off from a pad at Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana. Liftoff is set for sometime between 7:45 p.m. EDT and 8:45 p.m. EDT tomorrow (2345 GMT and 0045 GMT) at the South American spaceport. Arianespace will webcast the launch live on its website.
The Ariane 5 rocket will launch the ViaSat-2 and Eutelsat 172B satellites. ViaSat-2 is a communications satellite built for ViaSat Inc. to provide broadband internet services for customers across North America, Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America, as well as for aircraft and shipping routes over the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe, according to an Arianespace description.
Eutelsat 172B is a communications satellite for Eutelsat that will provide communications for in-flight and maritime connectivity across the Asia-Pacific ocean region, from Alaska to Australia, Arianespace representatives wrote.
So, there you have it: four rocket launches within 24 hours. A busy couple of days, huh?
But wait, there's more!
Bonus! Space station crew lands Friday
Not to be outdone by uncrewed launches, three space travelers will return to Earth early Friday (June 2) to end a six-month stay on the International Space Station.
A Russian Soyuz space capsule will land on the steppes of Kazakhstan in central Asia at 10:09 a.m. EDT (1409 GMT) Friday. The spacecraft will return Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, of the European Space Agency, to Earth.
NASA TV will webcast Soyuz landing events live throughout the morning, and Space.com will carry them as well. The events begin with a farewell ceremony webcast at 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT), followed by the Soyuz undocking coverage at 6:30 a.m. EDT (1030 GMT).
The coverage of the actual landing begins at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) ahead of the 10:09 a.m. EDT (1409 GMT) touchdown.
Whew! That is A LOT of space action to follow over the next two days. While it is rare to have so many launches and events back-to-back, it is not unprecedented. NASA has launched multiple sounding rockets in one day, for example. And last month, an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship launched to the International Space Station just days ahead of a new crew on a Soyuz spacecraft, forcing the Cygnus to wait until the Soyuz crew had arrived at the station before making its own docking.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article suggested the Soyuz landing also occured Thursday. It will land on Friday, June 2. This story was updated on June 2 to reflect NASA's launch delay for the sounding rocket launch from Wallops Flight Facility.