WATCH LIVE: SpaceX is about to launch its Crew Dragon spaceship into orbit for the first time — a 'critical' mission for NASA and its astronauts

NASA/Joel KowskyA SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen illuminated on the launch pad by spotlights at Launch Complex 39A on March 1, 2019, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
  • SpaceX and NASA hope to launch Crew Dragon, a commercial spaceship designed for astronauts, for the first time on Saturday at 2:49 a.m. ET.
  • The launch won’t carry astronauts to the space station, but NASA says it’s “a very critical mission” for proving the vehicle is safe to fly.
  • NASA TV will broadcast live video and commentary of the SpaceX Demo-1 mission, as it’s called, starting at 2 a.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch live below or at the agency’s website.
  • On Thursday, the US Air Force said there’s a 20% chance that weather conditions could delay the rocket launch to Tuesday morning.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After years of delays, SpaceX and NASA are closing in on the first experimental launch of a commercial spaceship designed to fly astronauts into orbit.

The demonstration mission, called Demo-1, is scheduled to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday at 2:49 a.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center here in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

You can watch the rocket lift off live via NASA TV using the player embedded at the end of this post.

The goal of the launch is to show that Crew Dragon, or Dragon V2 – a new spaceship that Elon Musk’s spaceflight company designed for NASA – is safe to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station(ISS).

The experimental spaceship will go to the ISS, but it won’t have any people on board this time. Instead, it will ferry a female crash-test dummy named “Ripley” in a spacesuit, along with some cargo, to the the $US150 billion orbiting laboratory. If this test proves successful, SpaceX may launch its first astronauts as soon as July.

“Demo-1 is a flight test, it absolutely is, although we view it also as a real mission, a very critical mission,” Kirk Shireman, who manages the space station program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said during a press briefing. “The ISS still has three people on board, and so this vehicle coming up to the ISS for the first time has to work. It has to work.”

Read more: SpaceX plans to rocket a sleek new spaceship for NASA astronauts into orbit. Here’s what Crew Dragon must do to prove it’s safe to fly people.

Demo-1 is part of a roughly $US8 billion effort by NASA called the Commercial Crew Program, which aims to restore NASA’s ability to launch astronauts on its own ships. The agency has not had a way to do that since it retired the last space shuttle in July 2011. (US astronauts currently fly to and from the ISS on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.)

Saturday’s event would mark the first launch of an American-made spaceship for astronauts since then, among other milestones.

“This is a critically important event in American history,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, told reporters on Friday while standing before four astronauts slated to fly on Crew Dragon. “We’re on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.”

Watch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch live online

Crew dragon spaceship lift off launch falcon 9 block 5 rocket illustration spacex nasa editedSpaceXAn illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space capsule for NASA astronauts launching toward space on a Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA TV plans to broadcast live video and commentary of the Falcon 9 rocket launch starting at 2 a.m. ET tomorrow (March 2). You can watch it using the embedded player below.

Although SpaceX typically hosts its own launch webcasts, this time the livestream will be a joint production with NASA, featuring remarkable views from inside the Crew Dragon.

“There will be video cameras and there will be nice views, and it will give you a perspective that you would have if you were inside,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president for build and flight reliability, said on Thursday.

On Friday morning, the US Air Force released a forecast predicting a 20% chance of delay due to weather. Cloud cover that’s too thick to launch a rocket within NASA’s margins of safety could lead the agency to scrub the morning launch. However, the weather here at the Cape is currently calm, with cloudless skies and a crystal-clear view of the stars.

Should weather or some other issue delay launch, the backup launch date is Tuesday, March 2. The forecast for Tuesday is markedly worse, with the USAF weather report says there could be a 40% chance of delay then, due to thick clouds and a chance of rain.

You can watch live launch coverage here. We’ve also posted a second-by-second list of stages for the launch below this player so you can follow along.

Here’s a list of all of the stages of the launch that you can expect to see, according to NASA, with all times being approximate and relative to 2:49 a.m. ET:

COUNTDOWNMin/Sec – Events

  • 45:00 – SpaceX Launch Director verifies “go” for propellant load
  • 37:00 – Dragon launch escape system is armed
  • 35:00 – RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading begins
  • 35:00 – First stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading begins
  • 16:00 – Second stage LOX loading begins
  • 07:00 – Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
  • 05:00 – Dragon transitions to internal power
  • 01:00 – Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
  • 01:00 – Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
  • 00:45 – SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
  • 00:03 – Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
  • 00:00 – Liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft

LAUNCH, LANDING AND DRAGON DEPLOYMENTMin/Sec – Events

  • 00:58 – Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
  • 02:35 – First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • 02:38 – First and second stages separate
  • 02:42 – Second stage engine starts
  • 07:48 – First stage entry burn
  • 08:59 – Second stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
  • 09:24 – First stage landing burn
  • 09:52 – First stage landing
  • 11:00 – Dragon separates from second stage

This story has been updated with new information.

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