Wake up in the wee hours of the morning on the East Coast and you might get a chance to watch a rocket launch more than three tons of cargo headed for the International Space Station. Set for a 4:39 ET liftoff from NASA’s facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, if the weather holds, this will be Orbital ATK’s ninth cargo delivery to the ISS.
The Antares launch, which is the company’s first since November, was initially scheduled for today, but was ultimately pushed back in favor of inspections and better weather. The ship will carry supplies, parts, gear and a trio of CubeSats (mini-satellites) designed for ISS science studies. CBS notes one particular quantum physics study that “will attempt to cool atoms to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.”
If you’re already up that early on the East Coast and have a decent vantage point, look up. Things will start off small and build to something potentially spectacular. Space.com describes it as akin to a shooting star at first, building to something more like a comet, with the sun catching the rocket’s smoky trail around four and a half minutes after liftoff.
The launch is one of 11 planned under a NASA contract, with potential to add six more supply missions for the ISS. SpaceX, for its part, is currently under contract for 20 such missions.