Love watching rocket launches? A Valentine’s Day doubleheader is on tap on the Space Coast, with two SpaceX rockets potentially scheduled to lift off Wednesday within about 16½ hours.
First, a Falcon 9 is slated to launch Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander, Odysseus, on a trek to the moon’s surface. This late-night liftoff is set for no earlier than 12:57 a.m. EST Wednesday from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
Then — though SpaceX has yet to publicly announce this secretive mission — a second launch window for the Space Force’s classified USSF-124 mission opens at 5:30 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. Wednesday at the Cape, a Federal Aviation Administration operations plan advisory shows.
The National Weather Service forecast appears favorable. Skies at the Cape should be mostly clear overnight Tuesday, with a low around 53 and northwest wind of 5 to 10 mph. Wednesday should see sunny skies, a high near 69, and north wind around 10 mph.
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The Initiative Machines moon lander mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative and Artemis campaign. The goal: Become the first American vehicle to softly land on the lunar surface since Apollo 17 in 1972.
“Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander is expected to land on the Moon Thursday, Feb. 22. Among the items on its lander, the IM-1 mission will carry NASA science and technology instruments focusing on plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies,” a NASA press release said.
Company officials expect Odysseus, which is carrying a suite of six NASA payloads, to orbit the moon about 12 times from about 100 kilometers above the surface before descending. The target landing site lies about 300 kilometers from the moon’s south pole. This site’s topography is “a relatively safe and flat area,” Susan Lederer, CLPS project scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said during a Monday teleconference.
“The goal here is for us to investigate the moon in preparation for Artemis, and really to do business differently for NASA. One of our main goals is to make sure that we develop a lunar economy,” Lederer said.
“For CLPS, we — NASA — hitch a ride on a lunar lander that’s developed by commercial industry. These aren’t NASA missions. They’re commercial missions.,” she said.
“These commercial companies will be bringing our instruments along for the ride, enabling our investigations by providing power, data and comm to us,” she said.
After touching down, Odysseus should operate on the moon’s surface for about seven days before lunar nightfall sets in, Intuitive Machines reported.
Last month, Astrobotic’s NASA CLPS moon lander mission went off the rails shortly after the lander, Peregrine, hitched a ride to space aboard United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket on its inaugural flight.
Peregrine, which aimed to become the first American commercial lunar lander to settle on the moon, developed a propellant leak and wound up re-entering Earth’s atmosphere and burning up over the remote South Pacific Ocean.
Details remain scant regarding the Wednesday USSF-124 mission. Space Systems Command media officials did not return emails seeking information.
Visit floridatoday.com/space for FLORIDA TODAY Space team live coverage of each Valentine’s Day launch, starting about 90 minutes before liftoff.
Click here for the latest launch schedule from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
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