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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Today Is a Busy Day in Space

By Phil Plait

A lot’s going on over your head today.

Update, Feb. 10, 2015, at 22:55 UTC: Today's launch was scrubbed due to upper level winds being far too high. The next launch window is tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 11, at 23:03 UTC (6:03 p.m. Eastern).

1) The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, postponed twice (once for a malfunctioning piece of Air Force tracking equipment and once due to weather) is scheduled for liftoff tonight at 23:05 UTC (6:05 p.m. Eastern). I have info about the very cool mission and links to watch live in an earlier post.

2) The SpaceX Dragon capsule has been mated to the International Space Station for about a month now, delivering cargo to the astronauts. It’s scheduled for release today at 19:09 UTC (2:09 p.m. Eastern); it’ll move away from the station, do a de-orbit burn, and then splash down in the Pacific at an expected time of around 00:44 UTC tonight (7:44 p.m. Eastern). has detailed info on the mission, and it'll be shown live on NASA TV.

If both of these events go off as planned, it’ll be a big feather in SpaceX’s cap. Some day, not too far in the future, space missions will be coming and going all the time, and this is a taste of what’s to come.

3) The European Space Agency is scheduled to launch an ambitious test vehicle tomorrow morning: the IXV, or Intermediate Experimental Vehicle, a wingless “lifting body” vehicle that will test technologies and design for future spacecraft. The launch, scheduled for 13:00 UTC (08:00 Eastern) Wednesday, will loft the vehicle to over 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface on a suborbital path. It will re-enter more than an hour later in the Pacific Ocean.

The launch will be carried live on the ESA channel.

The IXV is little—about the same size as a car. But it’s a testbed of new materials and tech, and will hopefully yield a lot of information that will prove useful as we push ever-farther into space.

Here’s a fun time-lapse animation of crew getting the vehicle ready and mating it to the Vega rocket that will send it into space.

I love seeing so much activity on the frontiers of space exploration! Ad astra, fellow humans.

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