A new set of civilian astronauts, including at least one YouTuber, plus a couple of military spacecraft and one nation's first mission to the moon are all leaving the planet in the span of less than 24 hours on Thursday (unless you're in the western US, where it was still Wednesday night for the first one).
The busy day in space started early with a Rocket Lab Electron small-payload mission sending a spy satellite to orbit from New Zealand on behalf of the US National Reconnaissance Office. This was the second of back-to-back NRO missions for the American-Kiwi company.
The mission lifted off at 1 a.m. ET Thursday, or 5 p.m. in New Zealand.
Next up was a United Launch Alliance mission that fired up an Atlas V rocket to send an SBIRS (for space-based infrared system) satellite headed to geosynchronous Earth orbit to perform missile detection and early warning for the US Space Force from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The launch took place before dawn in Florida at 6:29 a.m. ET, and so far the mission has gone according to plan.
Florida's space coast will see a doubleheader of blastoffs Thursday when the ULA launch is followed up by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter. The spacecraft is South Korea's first space exploration mission, set to visit low lunar orbit, where it will image the surface and map potential future landing sites. Korean media also reports that it plans to test the radio connection between the moon and Earth by transmitting the song Dynamite by BTS back to our planet.
The SpaceX launch is set for 7:08 p.m. ET, which is about twelve-and-a-half hours after the day's previous orbital launch from Cape Canaveral, the shortest period between two such launches from the space hub since 1967, at the height of the Apollo program.
In between all the action in Florida, a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket is set to lift off from the company's west Texas launch pad as early as 9:50 a.m. ET. The sixth crewed mission for Jeff Bezos' space company will feature the first Egyptian and Portuguese astronauts ever, as well as thethat we know of.
Coby Cotton, co-founder of the YouTube trick shot sensation channel Dude Perfect, headlines the Blue Origin crew alongside Portuguese entrepreneur Mário Ferreira, British-American mountaineer Vanessa O'Brien, technology leader Clint Kelly III, Egyptian engineer Sara Sabry and telecommunications executive Steve Young.
The group will make the now familiar journey from Texas desert to the edge of space for a few minutes of weightlessness and a sweeping view before descending back to the surface.
On top of all this action, there is some indication that China could conduct an experimental and unannounced test flight of a spacecraft on Thursday.
It all adds up to one of the busiest days in spaceflight we've ever seen, but it could be just the beginning as SpaceX and NASA ramp up their plans to send more astronauts to orbit, the moon and beyond in the coming years.