SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is making its first cargo trip back to the International Space Station (ISS) since its June attempt ended unexpectedly with the ship exploding itself, and its cargo, in mid-air. Watch today's launch happen live right here at 6:43am. Don't be late! The CRS-8 Dragon will be hauling 3175kg worth of supplies up to the ISS. Almost half of that weight is from something incredible: a 3.66m wide space house that astronauts are going to stick to the side of the ISS and then inflate. BEAM (or the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) is the first test of this particular tech in space. But if all goes well, NASA is already talking about the possibility of dropping similar units on Mars or the Moon to let future colonists live in space.
In fact, a lot of the cargo aboard this particular cargo run is geared towards the idea of living in space. There's a new, larger version of VEGGIE, the ISS vegetable garden, that will add cabbage to the roster of space vegetables the astronauts are already growing. There's also a host of space medicine experiments, which will look at both the kinds of microbes floating around up there and the possibility of manufacturing drugs in space.
Again, this cargo resupply mission is the first time the Dragon will head back to the ISS since its CRS-7 cargo resupply mission failed mid-flight and exploded in June. Fortunately, the astronauts had enough supplies to make do without CRS-7's cargo. Losing the Dragon's cargo of research supplies though, was setback that led SpaceX to revamp its testing procedures.
A previous Dragon launch to the ISS in April 2014 (CRS-3) / SPACEX
To send the Dragon up, SpaceX uses a Falcon 9 rocket. The last Falcon 9 launch in March was also plagued by initial problems with the rocket's fuel system, high winds and even an errant boat straying into the landing area, forcing the landing to be called off four separate times before making it up on its fifth attempt.
When it finally did make that last launch window, though, the Falcon 9 smoothly launched its satellite cargo and came incredibly close to landing aboard a droneship. For what it's worth, SpaceX had already said that it fully expected the rocket to crash when testing out a new trajectory plan. The fact that it made it so close to a landing was a surprise.
This time, SpaceX and Elon Musk seem much more confident of the landing prospects for the Falcon 9 aboard that same droneship, the "Of Course I Still Love You", with Musk saying there's a "good chance" this could be the one. If the team pulls it off, this would be the first time SpaceX has successfully landed one of its rockets on a ship. And once the company can do it regularly then the whole ocean becomes a landing pad.
The launch is scheduled to begin precisely at 6:43am AEST (4:43pm Eastern). If it misses that time by even a little bit, the launch will be pushed back to tomorrow. But so far both the weather and the rocket look great, so we can probably expect to see the launch today. The feed kicks-off twenty minutes earlier though, if you want to watch some of the prelaunch prep and run-up.
Join us to watch this morning right here:
Top image: A previous Dragon launch to the ISS, last January (CRS-5) / SPACEX