Earlier this week, the company successfully test-fired the Falcon 9, so it looks like it’s all systems go for the January 17 launch—so far at least.
The launch is scheduled for Sunday at 1:42pm Eastern, but coverage will begin at 12:45. You can watch it here via a NASA livestream:
About three minutes after liftoff, the main stage rocket booster will separate from the spacecraft and return to Earth, hopefully landing safely on SpaceX’s autonomous barge. Meanwhile, second stage boosters will continue to carry the Jason-3 satellite up to an orbit 840 miles above the Earth.
About 56 minutes after launch, Jason-3 will deploy its solar panels to prepare for operations. The satellite will help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration track sea level heights, which could improve forecasting for El Nino weather patterns and predict hurricane intensity.
SpaceX’s plan to land the rocket’s first stage on a drone ship, if successful, will be historic. The company recently managed to land their rocket on solid ground—a feat that could usher in an era of reusable rockets and cheaper spaceflight. But landing on a moving vessel adds an extra challenge.
Spaceflight Now reports that being able to land on the barge will come in handy when SpaceX needs to launch heavy payloads that use up all of its fuel. Without fuel reserves, the rocket could come down hard, which is a good reason to steer it out into the ocean for its landing attempt. The Sunday landing attempt, however, will be made using fuel reserves left over after the Jason-3 launch.
SpaceX came close to landing its rocket on the “autonomous spaceport” twice before, but both attempts ended in fiery failure. Will the third time be the charm? Only one way to find out.