From its space station perch, AWE will focus on colourful bands of light in Earth's atmosphere, called airglow, to determine what combination of forces drive space weather in the upper atmosphere.
The only passenger is a life-size test dummy, named Ripley from the Alien movies.
NASA doesn't expect this crucial shakedown cruise to go perfectly.
Looking on were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second space demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Once it successfully docks, it will stay there for about five days full of roughly 400 lbs of supplies for the astronauts on board the station.
The launch systems are aimed at ending USA reliance on Russian rockets for rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, at about $80 million per ticket.
For SpaceX, this flight is a key milestone in its 17-year history.
"We call it a smarty, and her name is Ripley", SpaceX vice president of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said in yesterday's pre-launch briefing.
"I'm very comfortable with where we're headed with this flight". Cargo Dragon must be maneuvered with the station's robot arm.
Unlike Elon Musk's Starman - which SpaceX strapped tightly to a Roadster during last year's sensational test launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket - Ripley serves an engineering goal. But now there are four seats, three windows, computer touch screens, and life-support systems. Solar cells are mounted on the spacecraft for electrical power, as opposed to the protruding solar wings on cargo Dragons.
"After many delays, Falcon 9 is vertical on Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center and is now 'go" for launch at 1:49 a.m. CST on March 2nd. "I thought maybe we'd have a 10 percent chance of reaching orbit starting out", Silicon Valley billionaire Musk said of his feelings when he founded the space company in 2002.
After its shuttle program was shuttered in July 2011 following a 30-year run, NASA's manned flights came to an end.
Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors.
"It's been 17 years, we still haven't launched anyone yet, but hopefully we will later this year". Most notable is the long, enclosed, gleaming white walkway at the top. "Those Florida mosquitoes, they can get in anywhere", said NASA's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon launch is set for 2:49 a.m. Saturday EST (11:49 p.m. Friday PST) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This mission is a night owl's dream, with most of the big events happening in the wee hours.
"Liftoff!" SpaceX tweeted at 2:49 a.m. ET.
The mission will be attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS). "When we first started, this program was just PowerPoint charts, and now we've got a vehicle out on the pad". Several items-parachutes and thrusters, among others-still need work and possibly redesign before certified for human use.
"This mission is an important step in returning human spaceflight to American soil".
NASA hopes to end its reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.