SpaceX plans to launch its next two missions to space on March 6th and March 11th of this year, following the replacement of an upper stage for its Falcon 9 rocket with another stage already prepared for takeoff at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The mission targeted for March 6th from pad 40 will launch a Dragon supply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) with approximately three tons of payload, crew provisions, and experiments, as well as a new mounting platform for external survey cargos outside the European Columbus lab module.
The launch is set for 11:50 p.m. EST on March 6th (04:50 GMT on March 7th) on SpaceX’s fifth Falcon 9 of this year alone.
Dragon Cargo’s 20th Mission
SpaceX specialists based at Kennedy Space Center‘s launch pad 39A will prepare another Falcon 9 rocket for takeoff on March 11th at 10:40 a.m. EDT (14:40 GMT). This second expedition will carry another set of 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink Internet network, which is set to transport into orbit most of the company’s 2020 launch campaign.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket is programmed to return to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station about eight minutes after the launch of the space station resupply expedition on March 6th. The booster is set to land on SpaceX’s drone ship located in the Atlantic Ocean after the March 11th liftoff. The March 6th mission will be the 20th flight of the company’s Dragon cargo capsule to the ISS.
NASA stated that the launch of the Dragon cargo mission, called CRS-20 or SpaceX-20, was postponed from March 2nd to allow SpaceX the time to replace the first stage on the Falcon 9 rocket with another already prepared for a later takeoff.
“During standard preflight inspections, SpaceX identified a valve motor on the second stage engine behaving not as expected and determined the safest and most expedient path to launch is to utilize the next second stage in line that was already at the Cape and ready for flight,” NASA said in a statement.
“The new second stage has already completed the same preflight inspections with all hardware behaving as expected. The updated target launch date (of March 6th) provides the time required to complete preflight integration and final checkouts,” NASA said.
Starlink Services Will Debut in the Summer
SpaceX is withdrawing the current version of the Dragon spacecraft and launches the Dragon 2 vehicle, which is created in two versions specially designed for crew and cargo expeditions to the ISS.
The first piloted mission of the Crew Dragon, which is the next-generation Dragon’s human-ranked configuration, is set to launch as soon as May from the Kennedy Space Center. On its first expeditions, the Crew Dragon will dash with astronauts once. The cargo version of the Dragon 2 spacecraft, which will feature cargo bags and racks instead of crew seats, is scheduled to launch and land five different times, SpaceX said.
The space company intends to send more than 1,500 Starlink satellites that will offer low-latency Internet service all over the world. About 720 satellites are needed to debut the first Internet services in high latitude areas, such as Canada and the northern United States.
SpaceX could achieve the initial service limit by mid-2020.