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A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a small science satellite for Canada is seen as it is launched from a newly refurbished launch pad in Vandenberg Air Force Station September 29, 2013. The unmanned rocket blasted off from California on Sunday to test upgrades needed for planned commercial launch services. The 22-story rocket, built and flown by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, soared off a newly refurbished, leased launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Station at noon EDT/1600 GMT (05.00 p.m. British time).
Reuters/Gene Blevins
What goes up…
INFRASTRUCTURE

Today SpaceX will test the reusable rocket that could change spaceflight

By Tim Fernholz

Update, 4:32 p.m.: The launch was scrubbed after lightning and anvil clouds made the weather conditions too risky for launch. The next opportunity for take-off is tomorrow, April 14, at 4:10 p.m. EST, and we’ll be watching.

At approximately 4:33 pm ET, SpaceX will launch its seventh mission to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA, and we’ll be watching to see if the company can successfully land the first stage of its launch vehicle onto a floating platform. Watch the live-stream of the launch here starting at 4:15 ET.

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Why does this matter?

If SpaceX can avoid what happened last time…

…and land the rocket and reuse the stage, it will be a game changer for the company, potentially reducing the cost of launches by tens of millions of dollars and creating what investors and executives believe will be disruptive access to orbit.

What funny things are in the cargo for ISS?

There’s a tiny espresso machine, designed by Lavazza and Italy’s space agency, so the astronauts can do better than instant coffee. Sadly, the delivery was delayed by the failure of an Orbital Sciences re-supply mission last fall, and the Italian astronaut who inspired the espresso mission will only have a few weeks to enjoy the machine before her scheduled return to earth in early May.

There are also thousands of pounds of food and other supplies for the astronauts, plus scientific experiments to study the affect of space living on the bodies of humans and rodents—particularly US astronaut Scott Kelly, who recently began his year on the station to study—and a project that will attempt to test synthetic muscle for robots.

Are Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos fighting over the patent on this technology?

US Patent Office
Methods, man.

Of course!

Is this important for SpaceX?

You bet—this mission has been delayed several times, most recently out of what SpaceX executives characterized as an abundance of caution when facing fuel storage issues in its vehicle. A successful launch is a must as the company spars with ULA, which is unveiling its own next generation rocket today. Both are pursuing launch business from telecom companies and governments. Landing the first stage of the rocket would be a veritable coup.

Tim Fernholz
Reporter
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