August 7, 2020

Falcon 9 launch of South Korean military satellite postponed


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EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) with SpaceX statement. Updated at 6:30 p.m. EDT (2230 GMT) with Elon Musk statement. Updated July 14 with possible launch date of Sunday, July 19. Updated July 16 with weather forecast.

The Anasis 2 satellite is prepared for shipment to Cape Canaveral from Airbus’s facility in Toulouse, France. Credit: Airbus Defense and Space

The planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Tuesday from Cape Canaveral of a South Korean military communications satellite has been delayed in order to address an issue on the launcher’s second stage, and potentially replace the hardware if necessary, officials said Monday.

“Standing down from tomorrow’s launch of Anasis 2 to take a closer look at the second stage, (and) swap hardware if needed,” SpaceX tweeted Monday. “Will announce new target launch date once confirmed on the range.”

It’s the second SpaceX mission to be postponed indefinitely in recent days as the company tries to cut turnaround times for reused rockets and produce new upper stages at a rapid rate to to meet a fast-paced launch schedule in the coming weeks.

“We’re being extra paranoid,” tweeted Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, in response to Spaceflight Now’s story. “Maximizing probability of successful launch is paramount.”

Airspace warning notices associated with the Falcon 9/Anasis 2 mission indicated SpaceX might reschedule the launch for Sunday, July 19, during a launch window opening at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) and closing at 8:55 p.m. EDT (0055 GMT).

A pre-launch weather forecast issued Thursday for the July 19 launch opportunity calls for a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions for liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket. The prime weather concerns are with the cumulus cloud and surface electric field rules.

“A rather potent disturbance moving through the flow will promote an increase in moisture on Saturday, bringing an enhanced potential for showers and thunderstorms,” the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron wrote. “Moisture is expected to thin out behind this system on Sunday and into Monday, with a corresponding decrease in the threat for showers and thunderstorms.”

SpaceX on Saturday test-fired the Falcon 9 rocket assigned to launch South Korea’s Anasis 2 communications satellite, and the company confirmed the mission was on track for liftoff Tuesday from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. But sources said Monday morning that the mission would be delayed, and SpaceX confirmed the delay in a tweet Monday afternoon.

And the Eastern Range, which oversees launch operations from Cape Canaveral, on Monday canceled launch hazard area notices for offshore airline and marine traffic that were associated with Tuesday’s launch opportunity.

The Anasis 2 spacecraft was manufactured by Airbus Defense and Space in Toulouse, France, and transported to Cape Canaveral last month on an Antonov An-124 cargo plane. Based on Airbus’s Eurostar E3000 satellite design, Anasis 2 “will provide secured communications over wide coverage,” Airbus said in a statement.

The launch of Anasis 2 is one of five missions SpaceX has planned through early August. A Falcon 9 launch from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a few miles north of pad 40, was to take off Saturday with a cluster of commercial satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband fleet and BlackSky’s Earth-imaging constellation, but SpaceX called off the countdown “to allow more time for checkouts.”

The Falcon 9 launch with the Starlink and BlackSky satellites was initially targeted for launch June 26, but SpaceX scrubbed the launch attempt that day and was similarly vague about the reason, again citing the need for “additional time for pre-launch checkouts.”

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload fairing — fired up on Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch Saturday for a pre-flight test-firing. Credit: William Harwood/CBS News

Two more SpaceX missions were slated to launch later in July from launch pads on Florida’s Space Coast.

Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar observation satellite was scheduled for liftoff as soon as July 25 on a Falcon 9 rocket, and another batch of Starlink satellites — flying in tandem with three Earth-observing satellites from Planet — were expected to launch around the end of July.

Another Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 was planned in early August. Schedules for subsequent Starlink missions have not been announced, but SpaceX is booked to launch the next Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts to the International Space Station and a GPS navigation satellite as soon as September.

The launch dates for those missions could be delayed as a ripple effect from the back-to-back postponements of the Starlink/BlackSky mission and the Anasis 2 flight.

The Anasis 2 mission will use a Falcon 9 first stage that previously flew May 30 to carry aloft NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The booster, designated B1058, landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean, and then returned to Port Canaveral for refurbishment ahead of its second flight.

In order to achieve the rapid-fire launch cadence planned in the coming weeks, SpaceX is aiming to cut its turnaround time for reused rockets. The shortest span between launches of the same Falcon 9 booster to date has been 62 days, which SpaceX achieved with a Feb. 17 mission.

If the Anasis 2 launch had gone ahead Tuesday, the booster for that mission would have launched on its second flight just 45 days after its first flight May 30.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, has previously said he wants to launch, recover and re-launch Falcon 9 booster twice within a 24-hour period. But Musk has not recently repeated those comments, instead focusing on SpaceX’s larger, next-generation Starship launch vehicle to make the next leap in reusable rocket technology.

The Falcon 9 booster from the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch will be reused for the Anasis 2 mission. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

SpaceX currently has five Falcon 9 boosters in its inventory, and the company has flown two brand new first stages in its 11 missions so far this year. At least two more new Falcon 9 first stages are scheduled to enter service in the coming months, with SpaceX’s next launch of astronauts and the next launch of a U.S. military GPS navigation satellite, both currently planned no earlier than September.

A Falcon Heavy launch planned in late 2020 with a clandestine U.S. military payload will fly with three Falcon rocket boosters, all brand new. SpaceX officials said in December that the company planned to build around 10 new Falcon first stages in 2020.

With its success in reusing Falcon 9 booster stages, the company has ramped up production of Falcon 9 second stages, which are new on each mission.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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