Launch companies and U.S. Space Force range officials at Cape Canaveral are reassessing long-standing weather rules, looking at beefing up rocket defenses against lightning, and considering strategies to prepare for two different launch windows on a given day to guard against weather delays, something SpaceX may demonstrate with a Falcon 9 launch early Thursday.
One of the two Falcon 9 rockets SpaceX planned to take off in a span of less than five hours earlier this week will remain grounded indefinitely, preventing Cape Canaveral from hosting two launches on the same day for the first time in decades. But the military-run Eastern Range was ready for the back-to-back missions, and probably won’t have to wait long for the next chance for a launch doubleheader.
Two SpaceX rockets are standing on launch pads several miles apart on Florida’s Space Coast awaiting launch opportunities Thursday and Friday, once an oft-delayed Delta 4-Heavy rocket from rival United Launch Alliance is able to blast off from Cape Canaveral with a top secret U.S. government spy satellite.
Continuing a dizzying series of rescheduled launches from Florida’s Space Coast, poor weather at the Kennedy Space Center forced SpaceX to keep a Falcon 9 rocket and 60 Starlink broadband satellites on the ground Monday. The Starlink launch is expected to be delayed until Thursday, after a pair of national security missions are set to blast off from Cape Canaveral Tuesday.
Delays have set up the possibility of up to three rocket launches this weekend from different pads along Florida’s Space Coast, including two SpaceX missions on Sunday that could set a company record for the shortest span between two Falcon 9 rocket launches. But in the world of ever-changing launch schedules, numerous factors such as weather and technical issues could thwart launch plans this weekend.
Range personnel at Cape Canaveral will employ physical distancing, face covers and other cautionary measures to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus during launch operations, the commander of the U.S. military’s 45th Space Wing said. But the next launch from Cape Canaveral has been postponed from Thursday until no earlier than next week, sources said. SpaceX is planning to fire off a Falcon 9 rocket with the next batch of Starlink Internet satellites.