SpaceX calls for a rare last-minute abortion during the countdown to California launch – Spaceflight Now

File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on its launch pad in California prior to an earlier mission. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX called off its Falcon 9 launch attempt Thursday less than a minute before liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the company’s first aborted countdown in more than 18 months for reasons other than bad weather or range safety.

The Falcon 9 rocket on SpaceX’s Starlink 3-2 mission was supposed to lift off at 10:39 a.m. PDT (1:39 p.m. EDT; 1739 GMT) Thursday from a misty launch pad in Vandenberg, It is a military spaceport 140 miles (225 kilometers) away. ) northwest of Los Angeles.

But a computer countdown sequencer aborted the pre-launch sequence at T-minus 46 seconds. SpaceX did not specify the reason for the suspension, but Vandenberg’s weather parameters and military operating range were “go” for the launch.

The company had two immediate launch opportunities Thursday to align with orbital aircraft in the company’s Internet constellation Starlink. There are 46 Starlink Internet satellites waiting to be launched from California on a Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX’s launch team options are also limited once the Falcon 9 rocket has been fueled. The Falcon 9 uses very cold kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants, and the liquids can get very warm if the rocket stays on the ground for too long before liftoff.

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

The last time a technical issue forced SpaceX to stop the countdown in the final phase of countdown preparations was in December 2020 at a launch from Florida for the National Reconnaissance Office. During this launch attempt, SpaceX engineers identified an unexpected pressure reading in the liquid oxygen tank on the upper stage of the Falcon 9, lowered the rocket horizontally for troubleshooting, and then successfully launched the mission two days later.

SpaceX has canceled several countdowns to Falcon 9 since December 2020 due to bad weather or range violations by ships or aircraft that have ventured into restricted airspace or waters near the launch site. Some of the launch delays occurred due to concerns about the Falcon 9 rocket or Earth systems, but none of those delays occurred in the final countdown sequence before liftoff.

SpaceX has launched 62 Falcon 9 rocket missions since the NROL-108 launch was called off due to a technical issue more than 18 months ago.

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

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

And the year is barely halved, which means that SpaceX is on track to roughly double the number of launches completed in 2021. SpaceX has launched more successful missions into orbit so far this year than any other nation’s combined effort, and the company is far ahead of its major competitors in the commercial market.

United Launch Alliance, a competitor in the US military launch business, has launched four times this year with success. Arianespace, the European commercial launch company, has completed three missions so far in 2021.

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

As SpaceX prepares to launch the Starlink 3-2 mission, staff at Kennedy Space Center are preparing another Falcon 9 rocket to take off from Panel 39A no later than Sunday with another set of Starlink Internet satellites.

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