SpaceX has two important missions to perform during Elon Musk’s birthday weekend rocket launch

April 18, 2016 – 08:01 am

New “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship ready for Sunday's rocket landing attempt.Update, 6/28: This launch failed when the rocket came apart two minutes and nineteen seconds after launch; we are following the story here.

Get the supplies to the International Space Station

Today’s main mission is bringing more than four tons of supplies and scientific experiments to the global outpost in orbit. The most recent attempt to re-supply ISS failed when a Russian autonomous spacecraft carrying five tons of food and fuel, Progress 59, malfunctioned and spiraled out of control in April. While two previous SpaceX re-supply missions in 2015 had succeeded, the last re-supply mission of 2014 failed spectacularly. In other words, the space station has received only half its expected cargo payloads in the last nine months.

“Both the Russian and USOS segments of the station continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight, ” a NASA spokesperson told Quartz after Progress 59 failed. “The next mission scheduled to deliver cargo to the station is the seventh SpaceX commercial resupply services mission targeted for launch no earlier than June 19. It will carry about 5, 000 pounds of science investigations and supplies.”

As you can see, rocket scheduling is an imprecise business, and we’re more than a week behind April’s expected launch date. NASA has made clear that the ISS is not in any danger of running out of necessities—with current supplies, they would move to “reserve level” at the end of July and run out in September, but eight other flights are scheduled this year. Now, SpaceX has an opportunity to demonstrate once again that the private spaceflight companies that are now handling re-supply work for the US can be reliable partners.

Indeed, listed among the ship’s cargo is equipment to allow the company’s manned spacecraft to dock with ISS.

Land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform

So far, no, but this time the company is confident that it has solved the problem. As you might recall, the last attempt to land the reusable first stage was this close to success:


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