SpaceX kicks off packed month of activities with launch from Cape Canaveral
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SpaceX kicked off a packed month of space-related activities with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket on Friday, its nose cone crammed with 40 small payloads destined for a nearly polar orbit.
Falcon 9's successful 12:24 p.m. ET liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on the first day of the month means SpaceX is, at least right now, on schedule to meet its goal of launching at least four missions in April. Launch Complex 40 hosted Friday's flight and the Just Read the Instructions drone ship was responsible for the booster landing.
About 25 minutes after liftoff and the rocket's arc toward the south, SpaceX confirmed some of the "rideshare" payloads had started being deployed. Rideshare missions allow several customers to launch small satellites on one Falcon 9 rocket and divide the costs. Friday's launch was SpaceX's fourth rideshare to date, thus labeled Transporter-4.
The spaceport, however, isn't taking much of a break: NASA teams at nearby Kennedy Space Center were preparing for the 45-hour countdown rehearsal of the agency's Space Launch System moon rocket, which was slated to begin just hours after the SpaceX launch.
If all goes according to plan, teams will run through the countdown as if it were launch day and fully fuel the rocket but stop before the actual launch sequence. Lessons learned during the all-hands-on-deck test could translate to slight changes in the way managers conduct the countdown.
NASA is expected to confirm the results of the test by late Sunday or sometime Monday. Officials are then expected to refine the launch date, currently no earlier than June, and release it the week of April 11.
Meanwhile, SpaceX will again step up to the plate for Axiom's first crewed launch to the International Space Station now set for Wednesday, April 6 . The roughly two-week mission will include three customers paying for the ride to orbit and one former NASA astronaut as commander.
Axiom, which hopes to leverage experiences gained on the ISS to someday build its own private space station, contracts with SpaceX for training and use of the Crew Dragon capsule.
Speaking of Crew Dragon, yet another crew of four is set to launch to the space station two weeks later on Wednesday, April 20. This time, NASA's Crew-4 mission will fly on a different version of the same capsule from pad 39A during a yet-to-be-released window.
Crew-4 will take four astronauts – three from NASA, one from the European Space Agency – to the ISS on a much longer six-month stay. It will mark SpaceX's fifth crewed spaceflight for NASA and, if Axiom is successful, seventh overall.
At least one SpaceX flight dedicated to its Starlink internet constellation is also slated for April. It's a lower priority compared to the crewed missions, so timelines likely won't be firm until the second half of the month.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Launch Wednesday, April 6
- Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
- Mission: Axiom's Ax-1 crewed flight to the International Space Station
- Launch Time: 12:05 p.m. ET
- Launch Pad: 39A at Kennedy Space Center
- Weather: Forecast expected Sunday
- Trajectory: Northeast
- Landing: Drone ship
Visit floridatoday.com/space at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday, April 6, for real-time updates and live video.