SpaceX plans to cap busy week with launch of satellite for SiriusXM

SpaceX plans to cap busy week with launch of satellite for SiriusXM

December 11, 2020 Stephen Clark

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The SXM 7 radio broadcasting satellite. Credit: Maxar

A massive radio broadcasting satellite for SiriusXM is set for liftoff Friday on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, punctuating a busy week for SpaceX that included the debut of a new-generation cargo ship for the International Space Station and a spectacular atmospheric test flight of a prototype rocket over South Texas.

A Falcon 9 rocket is standing on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for liftoff at 11:21 a.m. EST (1621 GMT) Friday with SiriusXM’s SXM 7 broadcasting satellite heading for geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.

The launch window Friday extends until 1:20 p.m. EST (1820 GMT).

There is a 90 percent chance of favorable weather during the nearly two-hour launch window Friday, according to the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron.

“For the primary launch window Friday morning, favorable conditions are expected for launch with light onshore winds bringing the stratocumulus and cumulus deck over the local Atlantic into the coast,” the weather team wrote in an outlook issued Thursday. “There will be only a small threat for this activity to potentially violate the cumulus cloud rule.”

The Falcon 9 rocket’s launch window opens 15 hours, 12 minutes, after a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket blasted off from pad 37B Thursday night a few miles to the south pad 40.

That would mark the shortest turnaround between two orbital launches from Cape Canaveral since September 1967, when Delta-G and Atlas-Centaur rockets took off within a 10-hour span from separate launch pads, according to a launch log maintained by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who tracks global satellite and launch activity.

Last August, a Falcon 9 and an Atlas 5 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in a period of less than 35 hours. That was the shortest span between two orbital missions at Cape Canaveral since May 1981.

Military officials at the 45th Space Wing have streamlined Eastern Range operations at Cape Canaveral to eliminate bottlenecks and reduce range staffing levels for some missions, such as SpaceX launches that use an automated flight safety system. The safety mechanism would terminate the launch if the rocket flew off course and threatened populated areas.

Rather than requiring as long as 48 hours between launches — as the Eastern Range did in recent decades — the 45th Space Wing says it can now accommodate a SpaceX launch and a ULA flight with less than 24 hours of separation.

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