Blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the Dragon CRS-18 cargo mission for NASA to the International Space Station on July 25, 2019, at 6:01 p.m. ET from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with 2.5 tons of science and supplies – in this remote camera view from pad 40. SpaceX CRS-19 is targeting liftoff on Dec. 4, 2019. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com
For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a thin autumn of launches with just a lone launch last month following an action packed first half to the year, a very busy December will close out 2019 with a hefty slate of liftoffs including a duo of key missions to the International Space Station (ISS) firing up this Christmas holiday season.
At least a trio and possibly a quintet of rockets from both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Florida’s Space Coast before and maybe after Christmas.
And all the exciting action begins tomorrow at lunchtime, Wednesday, Dec. 4, with the first of a dynamic duo of commercial blastoff’s to the Space Station that are critical for maintaining NASA’s long term operations aboard the orbiting science outpost – namely the SpaceX Cargo Dragon and the Boeing Starliner astronaut ferry ship.
Note: ULA/Boeing/NASA/Starliner launch just delayed to Dec. 19
Both the SpaceX cargo Dragon on the CRS-19 resupply mission and the Boeing Starliner on the Orbital Flight Test mission are unpiloted – but they are key for a keeping a continuing human presence on the ISS for perhaps another decade.
Cargo Drago will deliver some 2.5 tons of science and supplies to the station and its six person multinational crew.
Starliner is the first flight worthy version of the astronaut ferry ship – that will launch uncrewed this time.
And if all goes well it wilt transport three US astronauts to space sometime in the first half of 2020 from American soil – marking the first time for an American human spaceflight launch in over 8 years since the forced shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters by US politicians in Washington, DC.
First up in December is the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 with a newly built first stage booster from pad 40.
SpaceX and NASA are now targeting liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket launch with the unpiloted and recycled Dragon CRS-19 cargo ship from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:51 p.m. EST (1751 GMT) – that coincides with approximately the moment that Earth’s rotation brings Cape Canaveral under the orbital plane of International Space Station.
Weather is promising except for strong upper altitude winds that could scrub the launch.
The 2nd launch of the month also involves SpaceX with a Falcon 9 blastoff on Dec. 15 at 7:10 a.m. carrying the JCSAT-19/Kacific-1 communications satellite – also from pad 40. Thus any slip in CRS-19 could potentially slide this to the right.
The 3rd launch this month involves United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V carrying the first Boeing Starliner to orbit for NASA.
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch Starliner to low Earth orbit (LEO) and docking at the ISS on its first test flight on the OFT mission to the ISS.
Liftoff of the uncrewed OFT flight test is targeted to launch to No Earlier Than (NET) Dec. 17 at 7:47 a.m. EST (1247 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
This first flightworthy Boeing Starliner commercial crew astronaut ferry spacecraft was just rolled out a week and a half ago on Thursday, Nov. 21 from the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility (C3PF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41.
Check out my Space UpClose eyewitness articles and photos of the Starliner rollout.
After arriving at pat 41 later in the day Starliner was then stacked atop the ULA Atlas V rocket – that will launch the ship on its first unpiloted voyage to space the Orbital Flight Test (OFT) for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).
Watch the extremely cool NASA rollout videos
The Atlas V rocket and Starliner spaceship are currently being processed for flight on an extremely tight schedule since the rollout was postponed 6 days.
Thus a slight launch delay of a few days is a possibility but still TBD. And the target remains Dec. 17 at this time.
Two more SpaceX liftoffs could potentially take place in the last half of December – but don’t be surprised if they slip beyond the Christmas or New Year’s holiday season.
First would be launch of the next set of 60 Starlink comsats on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from pad 40.
The prior Starlink mission successfully launch this past month on Veterans Day November 11. See our articles and photos from the launch and booster arrival back into Port Canaveral, Florida.
Finally the 5th potential launch would also be by SpaceX for NASA on the In Flight Abort Test (IFA).
The In Flight Abort test is a critical test hurdle SpaceX must successfully pass to prove that a Crew Dragon spacecraft will be pulled away safely in a split second in case of a catastrophic failure of the Falcon 9 rocket in flight and save the astronauts lives using the Super Draco abort engines mounted on the side wall of the spaceship Crew Dragon – before NASA will permit its astronauts to be launched.
The IFA will be triggered during the period of maximum aerodynamic pressure.
The in-flight abort test will demonstrate whether the capsule can survive an abort of the Falcon 9 rocket through “one of the harshest moments of launch: max Q, or maximum aerodynamic pressure.”
SpaceX conducted a successful and critical static test firing of the Crew Dragon emergency SuperDraco abort thrusters on a ground stand at Cape Canaveral on Nov. 13 under dreary weather conditions of the same system that triggered the explosive destruction of a similar spacecraft seven months ago in April – thereby hopefully achieving a major milestone towards accomplishing a human spaceflight launch of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) sometime by mid-2020.
Check out our eyewitness article and phots of the SuperDraco static test firing.
The SpaceX Dragon CRS-19 window is ‘instantaneous’ meaning any delay for weather or technical reasons forces a minimum 1 day scrub.
The CRS-19 launch will be the 12th of the year for SpaceX.
SpaceX will attempt to recover and soft land the Falcon 9 first stage on the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ (OCISLY) droneship about 8 minutes after liftoff.
The OCISLY droneship is already at sea.
Dragon CRS-19 marks SpaceX’s 19th contracted cargo mission to the space station under the original commercial resupply services (CRS) contract with NASA.
The path to launch was paved follow a successful static fire test of the Falcon 9 first stage booster last week on Nov. 26 just before Thanksgiving on for a hold down static fire test at Space Launch Complex-40.
Check out our eyewitness articles and photos.
The Dragon spaceship is recycled from two prior missions on the CRS-4 and CRS-11 commercial resupply launches – from September 2014 and June 2017.
Thus the cargo Dragon is launching for the third time – the maximum for which they are certified.
The Dragon spacecraft supporting this mission previously flew in support of our fourth and eleventh commercial resupply missions pic.twitter.com/P6ceGX9Pz1
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 26, 2019
Watch my CBS News 6 Orlando TV News interview on Nov. 13 with my commentary about the abort thruster test firing:
Watch Ken’s continuing reports onsite for live reporting of the SpaceX CRS-19 mission at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events
Ken’s upcoming outreach events:
Dec 3/4: 7 PM, Quality Inn Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, FL. “SpaceX CRS-19 Launch to ISS Dec 4.” Free. In hotel lobby. Photos for sale