SpaceX is counting down to the March 2 launch of the company's first-ever Crew Dragon spacecraft, and it looks like Mother Nature may cooperate.
The weather forecast for SpaceX's Demo-1 Crew Dragon test flight predicts an 80 percent chance of good conditions for the pre-dawn launch this weekend. Liftoff is scheduled for 2:49 a.m. EST (0749 GMT) on Saturday.
"Weak high pressure in advance of a front moving southeast into the area is expected during the launch window with a low probability for rain and weak surface winds and only slight concerns of any cumulus cloud or thick cloud rule violations during the instantaneous launch window," NASA officials wrote in a status update Tuesday (Feb. 26).
If SpaceX cannot launch the Crew Dragon on Saturday, a backup date is available on March 5. But the weather forecast worsens for that day, with just a 40 percent chance of good conditions, according to a report from the 45th Weather Squadron at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Demo-1 mission is the first uncrewed test of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is designed to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA. This craft is the first crew-capable orbital spacecraft to launch from U.S. soil since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in 2011.
SpaceX is one of two companies NASA has tapped to fly astronauts to the station under the agency's Commercial Crew Program. The other company, Boeing, plans to launch the first uncrewed test flight of its own CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in April. NASA has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft for crewed flights since the shuttle fleet retired.
If all goes well on the Demo-1 mission, Crew Dragon will launch early Saturday and dock itself at the space station in the wee hours of Sunday (March 3), where astronauts are eagerly awaiting the new arrival.
"Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques will monitor the Crew Dragon’s approach and rendezvous on Sunday," NASA official wrote in a crew status update Tuesday. "The vehicle is targeting a 6 a.m. EST docking to the [International Docking Adapter], where the hatches will swing open about two-and-a-half hours later."
Crew Dragon will deliver 400 lbs. (181 kilograms) of supplies to the station and one "anthropomorphic test dummy," a spacesuit-clad mock astronaut equipped with sensors to record what the trip will be like for human space travelers, SpaceX and NASA officials have said.
The mission will end with Crew Dragon undocking and returning to Earth on Friday (March 8), with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean just off the eastern coast of Florida, NASA officials said last week.
Visit Space.com this week for complete coverage of SpaceX's Demo-1 Crew Dragon flight to the space station.