SpaceX Causes Rare Last-Minute Interruption During California Launch Countdown – Spaceflight Now


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File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at a launch pad in California before a previous mission. 1 credit

SpaceX canceled its Falcon 9 launch attempt on Thursday less than a minute before liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the first countdown stop at the company’s terminal in more than 18 months for reasons unrelated to bad weather or site safety.

The Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to lift off on SpaceX’s Starlink 3-2 mission at 10:39 AM PT (1:39 pm EDT; 5:39 pm GMT) Thursday from a foggy launch pad at Vandenberg, a military spaceport about 140 miles (225 km). ) northwest of Los Angeles.

But the computer’s countdown sequencer aborted the pre-start sequence at time minus 46 seconds. SpaceX did not give a reason for the delay, but weather conditions and military range at Vandenberg were ready for launch.

On Thursday, the company had two instant launch opportunities to align with orbital planes in the company’s Starlink internet constellation. 46 Starlink internet satellites are waiting to be launched from California on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The SpaceX launch team’s capabilities are also limited when the Falcon 9 rocket is loaded with propellant. The Falcon 9 uses compacted, supercooled kerosene and liquid oxygen, and these liquids can get too hot if the rocket is left on the ground for too long before launch.

SpaceX’s launch director announced Thursday’s countdown has been canceled and teams have begun preparations to drain fuel from the two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. Officials have tentatively scheduled another launch attempt for Friday at the same time – 10:39 a.m. PT.

The last time a technical problem caused SpaceX to stop the countdown was in the final stages of preparing the December 2020 countdown when launching from Florida for the National Reconnaissance Agency. During this launch attempt, SpaceX engineers detected unexpected pressure readings in the Falcon 9’s upper stage liquid oxygen tank, lowered the rocket horizontally to troubleshoot, and then successfully launched the mission two days later.

Since December 2020, SpaceX has canceled several Falcon 9 countdowns due to bad weather or range violations by ships or aircraft that ventured into restricted airspace or water near the launch site. And there were several launch delays caused by problems with the Falcon 9 rocket or ground systems, but none of them occurred in the last countdown sequence before launch.

SpaceX has launched 62 Falcon 9 rockets since the NROL-108 launch was canceled due to a technical problem more than 18 months ago.

The Starlink 3-2 mission aims to place 46 internet satellites into polar orbit. Credit: Spaceflight Now

The launch of the next 46 Starlink satellites from California will be the 32nd Falcon 9 rocket flight this year, breaking the record of 31 missions in a calendar year set in 2021.

And the year is barely halfway through, which means SpaceX is on track to nearly double the number of launches completed in 2021. SpaceX has launched more successful missions into orbit this year than the combined efforts of any other country, and the company is far ahead of its main competitors in the commercial market.

United Launch Alliance, the US military launch competitor, has successfully launched four times this year. The European commercial launch company Arianespace completed three missions in 2021.

SpaceX said its first 31 missions this year delivered about 351 metric tons (about 774,000 pounds) of payload mass into orbit. The flights have carried astronauts to the International Space Station, launched hundreds of small satellites for the Starlink network and client fleet, and deployed national security payloads for the US government’s spy satellite agency.

As SpaceX prepares to launch the Starlink 3-2 mission, Kennedy Space Center workers prepare another Falcon 9 rocket to launch from pad 39A no earlier than Sunday with another batch of Starlink internet satellites.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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