SpaceX is scheduled to return to space on February 18, launching from a historic launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that was last used by the Space Shuttle.
Launch Pad 39A is the site of tremendous history for the American space program. It was first used by NASA for the Apollo manned missions to the moon in the late 1960s. After the launch of Skylab in 1973 from the launch pad complex, Pad 39A was reconfigured for the Space Shuttle in the late 1970s. Space Shuttle Columbia, known as STS-1, lifted off from the pad in 1981. The pad was also used for the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 8, 2011.
The launch pad remained as is after that July 2011 launch, with no changes made to its configuration or related structures. In 2013, NASA launched a bidding process to allow commercial launch providers access to the famed pad. On December 13, 2013, NASA announced that they had selected SpaceX as the new commercial tenant; SpaceX signed a 20-year exclusive lease of Pad 39A on April 14, 2014.
After much construction, including development of a Horizontal Integration Facility, the launch pad is ready for new launches.
On February 17, 2017, the FAA granted SpaceX a license to launch from the pad to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
At this time, SpaceX is scheduled to launch its rocket from Launch Pad 39A at 9:38am ET on Sunday, February 18,
Known as CRS-10, the mission will launch nearly 5,500 pounds of science experiments, research equipment, and supplies to the ISS and its resident astronauts thanks to a powerful Falcon 9 rocket. After 10 minutes of travel, Dragon will separate from Falcon’s Second Stage Rocket and head to the ISS. It will take two days for the Dragon capsule to catch up to the ISS and move within reach of the station’s 57 foot long robotic arm.
Astronauts Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA) will use the arm to capture Dragon and maneuver it to its berthing port on the station. The uncrewed Dragon is pressurized so astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory can unpack the cargo and later fill it up with completed experiments and used equipment for return to Earth.
While the excitement of a launch will be around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the excitement of a possible rocket landing will also be in the air. After separation, Falcon’s First Stage Rocket will attempt a landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.