A Space Exploration Technologies Corp. rocket blasted off at 12:29 p.m. Thursday in Florida from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket separated and was set to land on a drone vessel in the Atlantic Ocean, 185 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was scrubbed because of wind gusts.
On Friday, a Russian cargo craft will head to the ISS and, roughly a fortnight later, the first test flight is scheduled for a new Boeing Co. vehicle for carrying astronauts.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule sent aloft Thursday is on its third flight to the space station and is carrying 5,700 pounds of supplies and scientific material. The Dragon is expected to dock at the ISS on Sunday. After releasing the capsule, Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans a six-hour cruise of the Falcon’s second stage to collect data on thermal conditions and other metrics.
The launch comes as the competition heats up between SpaceX and Boeing to resume U.S. missions to transport personnel to the station. Russia has been the sole provider of that service since the U.S. space shuttle ended flights in 2011.
Boeing and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have set the first test flight of the manufacturer’s CTS-100 Starliner crew capsule for Dec. 19. The Starliner will arrive at the station Dec. 20 carrying a test mannequin and remain for as long as five days. SpaceX flew a similar test in March. Boeing and SpaceX plan to start carrying astronauts to the ISS next year, with a potential crew launch as soon as the first quarter.
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Thursday’s science payload includes 40 genetically enhanced mice for an experiment on reducing muscle and bone degradation in microgravity, one of the key obstacles for extended space travel.
The flight also includes the fourth payload for Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, which has been studying development of barley — an ingredient of beer — in space as a way to potentially boost production. And a Mexican university will release its first cube satellite, AztechSat-1, to conduct inter-satellite communications demonstrations in space.
The Russian Progress cargo craft set to launch early Friday from Kazakhstan, is scheduled to arrive three days later.