SpaceX delays next Starlink mission after crew launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Friday, awaiting launch with up to 60 more Starlink satellites. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

Citing a tropical storm in the downrange booster recovery zone, SpaceX said Monday that a launch of up to 60 more Starlink Internet satellites previously planned this week from Cape Canaveral has been delayed until after the launch of the company’s first crewed flight.

A Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad at 3:10 a.m. EDT (0710 GMT) Tuesday, but SpaceX said Monday it is standing down from the mission until after the Crew Dragon’s first launch with astronauts later this month.

SpaceX said it was postponing the launch due to Tropical Storm Arthur. The storm is bringing high winds and rough seas to the downrange recovery area northeast of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean, where SpaceX’s drone ship needs to be positioned for landing of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage booster.

The reusable first stage slated for launch on the next Starlink mission has flown four times before. SpaceX hopes to recover it again for inspections and more potential flights.

One of SpaceX’s drone ships, named “Of Course I Still Love You,” was dispatched to the recovery zone in the Atlantic Ocean for this week’s Starlink launch, which was originally scheduled for Sunday morning.

SpaceX originally pushed back the launch to Monday, then again to Tuesday, due to a conflict on the U.S. Space Force’s Eastern Range after the one-day delay in the liftoff of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from a neighboring pad at Cape Canaveral. ULA had reserved Sunday as a backup date on the range for the Atlas 5 launch, and SpaceX could only launch Sunday if the Atlas 5 was able to take off Saturday.

In the end, the Atlas 5’s launch attempt Saturday was scrubbed due to gusty ground winds. The rocket successfully took off Sunday with the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane.

NOAA’s GOES-16 weather satellite captured this view of Tropical Storm Arthur off the coast of North Carolina on Monday, May 18. Credit: NOAA

But Tropical Storm Arthur was moving closer to the Falcon 9 recovery zone, prompting SpaceX to postpone plans to launch the Falcon 9 rocket’s eighth dedicated Starlink mission.

SpaceX is expected to use the same drone ship to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that launches the Crew Dragon spacecraft May 27. There was little time to wait for the tropical storm to move away from the landing area in the Atlantic, and still have time to bring the booster back to Port Canaveral, Florida, and send the drone ship back to sea for the Crew Dragon launch.

The Falcon 9 on the Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 test flight May 27 will use a brand new first stage booster.

The Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled for liftoff at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) on May 27 from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will be aboard for a test flight to the International Space Station.

It will be the first launch of astronauts from Florida’s Space Coast since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.