A brand-new SpaceX booster, a rarity for the reusable rocket company, is ready to launch a fresh cargo ship to the International Space Station for NASA on Thursday (June 3).
The Falcon 9 rocket is cleared to launch the CRS-22 Dragon cargo mission to the space station from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff is set for 1:29 p.m. EDT (1729 GMT). NASA's launch webcast, which you'll be able to watch here on Space.com, will begin at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT).
"We are less than 24 hours away from our 22nd resupply mission to the International Space Station," Sarah Walker, Dragon mission management for SpaceX, which has been flying commercial cargo missions for NASA since 2012, said during a news conference held Wednesday (June 2). "I feel like I blinked and we're here talking about the 22nd one."
Thursday's launch will haul about 4,300 lbs. (1,950 kilograms) of pressurized cargo to the International Space Station, including fresh supplies for the station's astronaut crew and experiment gear, as well as two new roll-out solar arrays to be installed during upcoming spacewalks, NASA's Joel Montalbano, space station program manager, told reporters.
While SpaceX is nearing the two-dozen mark with its NASA cargo missions, the upcoming CRS-22 flight stands apart from recent flights because of its new booster. The company regularly reflies the first stages of its Falcon 9 rockets — and even its Dragon capsules — as part of its reusability program to lower launch costs.
"This is the 17th mission that SpaceX has launched just in this front half of 2021 this year, and the first one where we're introducing a new booster to the fleet," Walker said, adding that the company's recent baseline has been to fly Falcon 9 stages at least two or three times (the current record is 10 flights, set last month). "So we're actually surprised when we get to a mission like today's where we're flying a new booster. I think that's really neat."
If all goes well, the pristine Falcon 9 booster will launch its CRS-22 Dragon cargo ship into orbit and then land on SpaceX's drone ship Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean so it can be recovered for later reuse. The Dragon capsule, meanwhile, will continue on to the station, where it is scheduled to arrive on Saturday (June 5) at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT).
Currently, weather forecasts predict a 60% chance of good launch conditions for SpaceX, with the threat of rain showers posing the main concern. Similar conditions are expected on Friday, a backup launch day for SpaceX, according to weather officials. Still, a 60% chance is encouraging.
"I do think that there's still a better than average chance that we'll be able to thread the needle and get in a good opportunity for tomorrow," said launch weather officer Mark Burger of the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in the briefing.
SpaceX is one of two companies (Northrop Grumman is the other) with multi-billion-dollar contracts with NASA to fly uncrewed cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station.
SpaceX also uses a Crew Dragon version of its spacecraft to fly astronauts to the station for NASA. The company's most recent mission, Crew-2, ferried four astronauts to the orbiting lab last month. Boeing also has a NASA crew contract, but has yet to launch astronauts.
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