Startup rocket company Space Exploration Technologies (we all know them as SpaceX) is set to launch their Dragon capsule to the International Space Station early in the morning (3:44am EDT!) on Tuesday. SpaceX will be webcasting the launch on their website, SpaceX.com, starting at 3:00am Eastern Time. You can also follow along as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posts live updates to Twitter from Mission Control!
This will be the second launch attempt after SpaceX had a last-minute abort just a few days earlier. They’ve identified the problem (faulty nitrogen valve), fixed it, and are ready to go again. To be clear: that is amazingly fast work in the space industry.
This launch is really important because it will be the first time that a privately-developed spacecraft will be allowed to dock with the multi-billion dollar orbiting laboratory. It is also really awesome because SpaceX did what any good geek should and gave their spaceship a cool name: DRAGON! (Their name for configuring later capsules to carry up to seven astronauts? DragonRider. Seriously!)
This is also only the third launch of the Falcon 9 rocket that will accelerate the Dragon capsule to 17,000 mph so that it can stay in orbit. This is only the second Dragon spacecraft that will ever have flown into space. That first Dragon was the only privately-funded spacecraft to be launched, orbit the planet, and land successfully. Ever.
Why are they making us get up so early? They need to launch at just the right time to match orbits with the International Space Station as it cruises around the planet. A minute too early and they’ll overshoot the target. A minute late and they won’t be able to catch up. Orbital mechanics is complicated.
For some rather dry commentary and details, check out this video from NASA: