A United Launch Atlas 5 rocket is set to dispatch NASA’s InSight lander toward Mars, kicking off an interplanetary journey from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The 188-foot-tall (57-meter) rocket, propelled by an RD-180 main engine, is set for liftoff during a two-hour launch window Saturday that opens at 4:05 a.m. EDT (7:05 a.m. EDT; 1105 GMT).
The InSight mission will be the 78th flight of an Atlas 5 rocket, and the fourth Atlas 5 launch of 2018.
The Atlas 5 rocket will lift off from Space Launch Complex 3-East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, flying in the “401” configuration with no solid rocket boosters and a four-meter-diameter payload fairing.
A Russian Progress resupply and refueling freighter launched Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on top of a Soyuz booster. The cargo craft completed the fastest rendezvous in the history of the International Space Station program with a successful docking less than three-and-a-half hours later.
The early months of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission’s exploration of asteroid Bennu have revealed big surprises, scientists said Tuesday, including plumes of particles streaming away from the asteroid, sometimes with enough velocity for rocks to break out of Bennu’s tenuous gravitational grip and escape into space.
A Chinese communications satellite carrying a Dutch radio astronomy instrument launched last month is expected to maneuver into position around a gravitationally-neutral point beyond the moon in the coming days, ready to relay telemetry and data between Earth and the Chang’e 4 lander set to attempt the first landing on lunar far side late this year.