SpaceX squeezes in rare Leap Day Falcon 9 launch following Crew-8 astronaut delay

In just the fourth Leap Day launch in history, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Image: Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now

SpaceX made the most of a weather delay to an astronaut launch from Florida’s Space Coast. The company launched a batch of Starlink satellites from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Thursday morning.

The Leap Day launch of the Starlink 6-40 mission added another 23 Starlink Version 2 Mini satellites to the growing low Earth orbit constellation. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 occurred at 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 UTC).

This was just the fourth time in history that an orbital launch took place on Feb. 29. Japan, Russia and China can also lay claim to launching on a day that only exists every four years.

About 8.5 minutes after liftoff, the first stage booster, tail number B1076, landed on the droneship ‘Just Read the Instructions,’ which was positioned in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the 11th flight of this booster and the 73rd landing for this droneship.

The launch on Thursday was only possible because of poor weather out in the Atlantic Ocean much farther north. Launch weather forecasters predicted that if a mid-flight abort were necessary during the ascent of the Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station, conditions would be unsafe for the recovery crew and the astronauts within the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

NASA and SpaceX pivoted to a new target launch date of March 2 for that mission.

SpaceX was able to launch its 12th Starlink mission of the year, despite some cloudy conditions around Florida’s Space Coast on Feb. 29, 2024. Image: Michael Cain/Spaceflight Now