Space X‘s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s unmanned Dragon vehicle, loaded down with supplies, is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral, in Florida on Monday April 14. This will be the third official robotic mission of this kind.

This mission is part of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly 12 missions to the orbiting station using the Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket. You can watch the SpaceX launch live on NASA TV starting at 3:45 p.m. EDT next Monday. The actual launch is scheduled for 4:58 EDT. If the launch occurs on time, Dragon is due to arrive at the station at 7 a.m. EDT on April 16. If the launch doesn’t occur on time, there will be another launch window on April 18.

Space X

SpaceX initially wanted to launch the Dragon delivery mission last month, but damage to a ground-based U.S.A.F. base radar station, which is used to support Florida launches, delayed the mission.

According to NASA, the Dragon vehicle will fly to the station complete with 5,000 lbs. of cargo and scientific equipment.  The supplies will include legs for Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot designed to assist the astronauts on the station with their daily tasks.

“These new legs, funded by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates, will provide R2 (Robonaut 2) the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the space station…The goal is to free up the crew for more critical work, including scientific research.” NASA officials said in a March 12th statement.

SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle will remain attached to the station’s Harmony module until mid-May.  At that time it will detach and return to earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, NASA officials said. At that time, Dragon is expected to be carrying about 3,000 lbs. of experiments and equipment.  Currently, the Dragon capsule is the only robotic cargo vehicle that is capable of bringing supplies back to Earth. Other robotic spacecraft like Russia’s Progress vehicles or Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles can deliver supplies to the station, but are not designed to return.

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[Image via americaspace]