Highlights of science experiments launching on SpaceX’s 16th resupply mission to the International Space Station.
The only hangup standing in the way of a Tuesday SpaceX Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral is of the short-limbed, long-tailed variety.
Forty rodents will have to wait before they can fly in a Dragon spacecraft packed with 5,600 pounds of cargo and science experiments destined for the International Space Station as crews work to replace their food, which was found on Monday to have been contaminated with mold.
Speaking during a pre-launch briefing, Deputy ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano confirmed that teams will have to work through the night and into Tuesday morning to make the 1:38 p.m. liftoff a reality. That includes discarding all the old “food bars” and flying new ones in from California to Orlando.
“It’s going to be tight,” Montalbano said at KSC Monday afternoon. “We’re having some hardware flown from the Ames Research Center, which will arrive later this evening. That team will come down here and we’ll process it and get loaded in the vehicle with the goal of making the launch time tomorrow.”
SpaceX, he said, is giving up some of the flexibility in its schedule to allow for more rodent-related time. From there, the mice will be loaded into the Dragon spacecraft and used by station crew to conduct experiments on human aging and how age impacts certain diseases.
In the event of a delay due to the food or other issues, teams have a backup launch opportunity at 1:16 p.m. Wednesday. Beyond that, teams will have to examine station schedules – crew timelines and the activities of other spacecraft – to determine a new window.
If the mission, SpaceX’s 16th under the Commercial Resupply Services contract, launches on time Tuesday, Dragon should arrive by Thursday. It will remain on orbit until Jan. 13, after which it will target a Pacific Ocean splashdown with return experiments.
Another variable impacting launch timing: The weather forecast, which the Air Force says is 60 percent “go” for Tuesday’s attempt. Those odds improve to 90 percent “go” in the event of a push to Wednesday.
Weather is particularly important for CRS missions as meeting up with the ISS is an instantaneous affair – if teams can’t launch on Tuesday 1:38 p.m. and 51 seconds, it’s a scrub. This translates to fewer opportunities to wait for weather to clear.
After liftoff, the rocket’s 156-foot-tall first stage will return to Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 for an automated touchdown and generate its signature triple sonic boom on the way. The booster has not been flown before.
Other than station necessities such as food – human food, too – and water, some of the investigations launching on CRS-16 include:
• The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, or GEDI, which is designed to map out and measure the height of treetops around the world using laser imaging. Scientists hope GEDI will help them understand how much carbon is stored in the world’s forests.
• Robotic Refueling Mission 3, a Kennedy Space Center-led investigation that will attempt to better understand the methods necessary to refuel and service spacecraft already on orbit. This long-sought-after technology could enable spacecraft ranging from telescopes to high-stakes military satellites to stay on orbit longer. RRM3 will transfer liquid methane, a type of cryogenic liquid, in space for the first time.
• And in keeping with the animal theme, about 36,000 worms will fly in Dragon to help understand how humans lose muscle mass while in space. Astronauts can lose up to 40 percent after six months, according to experts on the United Kingdom-led Molecular Muscle Experiment.
Tuesday’s mission comes after a busy Monday in spaceflight, which included a crewed Soyuz rocket launch from Kazakhstan and SpaceX’s launch of a three-time Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, making company history.
- Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
- Mission: International Space Station resupply mission 16
- Launch Time: 1:38:51 p.m. Eastern
- Window: Instantaneous
- Launch Complex: 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
- Landing: Yes, Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1
Join floridatoday.com/space to watch live video at 12 p.m. Monday.
Read or Share this story: https://www.floridatoday.com/story/tech/science/space/2018/12/03/nasa-spacex-working-prepare-rodent-food-florida-falcon-9-rocket-launch/2192598002/