Two Rocket Launches And An Asteroid Rendezvous Happening Later Today

After an epic November, space enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to this month. Three major events are happening today alone, and more exciting things are coming later this week.

Today is a busy day for NASA, as the space agency prepares to launch an astronaut crew to the International Space Station (ISS), while also hitting a milestone with one of its pioneering space missions, the OSIRIS-REx.

Meanwhile, private rocket company SpaceX will attempt to make history with a spectacular 64-satellite launch; an all-time record for U.S. rockets.

ISS Astronaut Launch

The excitement starts early in the morning with a highly-anticipated trip to the space station. Three astronauts, two of whom have never flown into space before, will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:31 a.m. ET to embark on a six-and-a-half-month mission on board the orbital outpost.

The trio is made up of NASA astronaut Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos — or the crew of Expedition 58. The intrepid spacefarers are set to launch in a Soyuz MS-11 capsule, riding into space atop a Soyuz-FG rocket.

Media coverage of the event begins as early as 5:30 a.m., with both NASA TV and NASA Live set to air the Soyuz MS-11 launch. A few hours later, the space agency will be broadcasting the docking of the astronaut capsule, which is scheduled for 12:35 p.m., with livestreaming starting at 11:45 a.m., and the opening of the hatches between the Soyuz and the ISS, expected to take place at around 2:35 p.m. -- coverage begins at 1:45 p.m.

As the Inquisitr recently reported, this is the first flight of the Russian rocket since the October 11 incident. At the time, a booster sensor malfunction failed to signal the separation between the rocket's first and second stage, leading to a launch abort that (safely) sent two astronauts hurtling back to Earth. While Forbes is calling it a "risky launch," it should be noted that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has expressed his confidence in the Russian space-launch program.

Nevertheless, today's launch is certainly keeping the astronaut crew in suspense. According to the Canadian media outlet 680 News, Saint-Jacques told reporters that "the most dangerous part of the six-month mission is the 10-minute Soyuz launch and the six hours that follow before docking."

More details on the previous Soyuz-FG launch and on what caused the rocket to fail, as well as the statement from Bridenstine, can be read in this earlier report from the Inquisitr.

OSIRIS-REx Meets Bennu

Noon ET comes with a major development in the OSIRIS-REx mission. After chasing Bennu for a little over two years, the spacecraft will finally catch up with the asteroid later today. The big event is expected to occur around 12 p.m. ET, or about half an hour before the astronaut crew docks with the ISS.

Today's rendezvous will bring OSIRIS-REx within 12 miles of the asteroid's surface for the first close-up view of Bennu since the spacecraft left Earth in September, 2016. The event will be livestreamed from 11:45 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. on various on-line channels, including NASA TV, NASA Live, Facebook Live, Ustream, and YouTube.

This is NASA's first mission to sample a near-Earth asteroid. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will study Bennu from orbit for two years before eventually swooping down to the space rock's surface to snag a regolith sample in July, 2020, the Inquisitr previously reported.

SpaceX Historic Falcon 9 Launch

Next up is the highly-anticipated SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, which will see a total of 64 satellites fly into orbit atop a single rocket. This is the largest satellite rideshare in the company's history, as well as a record for any U.S.-based rocket, as reported by the Inquisitr.

This momentous SpaceX launch is taking place at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Known as the "Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express," the mission has faced multiple delays and is now slated to lift off at 1:32 p.m. ET.

The mission will bring several records for SpaceX, including the one for most rocket launches in a single year, as noted by Space. At the same time, this will be the company's third launch of the same Falcon 9 booster; now taking off from the West Coast for the very first time.

To watch the rocket soar to the skies with its 64-satellite payload, tune in to the SpaceX livestream on YouTube. The show starts about 15 minutes before liftoff.

What's Happening Later This Week?

The day after the multi-satellite launch, SpaceX is rushing to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where another Falcon 9 is waiting to ride into orbit with the company's Dragon cargo ship. This is SpaceX's 16th supply run to the ISS and will deliver more than 5,600 pounds of scientific experiment, equipment, and goods to the astronauts in space. Launch is scheduled for 1:38 p.m. ET on December 4 and will be aired by NASA Live.

Tomorrow could also be the day when NASA's VISIONS-2 mission sets off to chase the northern lights in order to study the oxygen outflow within the aurora and find out why Earth's atmosphere is leaking into space. As the Inquisitr reported yesterday, the launch window for the VISIONS-2 mission opens on December 4 and lasts for two weeks.

On Sunday, the world might tune in to watch a robotic mission land on the dark side of the moon for the first time in history. Known as the Chang'e 4 mission, this trailblazing endeavor aims to put a Chinese rover-lander combo on the lunar far side, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.

According to GB Times, the spacecraft could launch on December 8. Although the China National Space Administration hasn't officially announced a launch date, the media outlet has caught wind of a possible early December liftoff.