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Next SpaceX launch will wait for improved ocean conditions

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Next SpaceX launch will wait for improved ocean conditions

September 18, 2020 Stephen Clark


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Credit: Spaceflight Now

The launch of SpaceX’s next 60 Starlink satellites will wait for better weather and sea conditions after currents were too strong for the company’s rocket landing platform to hold position in the Atlantic Ocean for a launch attempt Thursday.

After scrubbing Thursday’s launch attempt, SpaceX initially said it might try again to launch the mission Friday afternoon.

But the launch company announced Thursday night that it would not proceed with a countdown Friday. It could take several days for conditions to improve enough to allow SpaceX to proceed with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the company said.

SpaceX’s drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” was dispatched to a point nearly 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral for landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster. The reusable rocket is designed to be recovered and reused.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, said the current at the landing site in the Atlantic Ocean — roughly due east of Charleston, South Carolina — was too strong for the drone ship to hold station. He tweeted that underwater control thrusters will be upgraded for future missions.

Several tropical weather systems are moving across the Atlantic, including Hurricane Teddy in the central Atlantic Ocean and the remnants of Hurricane Sally off the U.S. East Coast.

SpaceX’s two drone ships are each about the size of a football field, and are designed to hold position while the Falcon 9’s first stage descends to a pinpoint touchdown with a series of braking maneuvers using rocket thrust. The mobile platforms, converted from barges, are emblazoned with a bullseye and a stylized “X” to mark the landing target.

Recovering and reusing rockets is crucial to SpaceX’s model of budget launch costs, and is key to maintaining the company’s fast-paced launch cadence. The mission that was originally scheduled to take off Thursday will carry 60 more satellites into orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband Internet network.

SpaceX has previously gone ahead with missions despite poor weather in the offshore recovery area that could risk the booster’s landing. With reusability now ingrained in the company’s launch schedule, recovery is becoming more important.

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