SpaceX announced Sunday it has pushed back its planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with 11 Orbcomm Inc. communications satellites to 8:33 p.m. ET Monday.
CAPE CANAVERAL — SpaceX announced Sunday it has pushed back its planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with 11 Orbcomm Inc. communications satellites to 8:33 p.m. ET Monday.
There’s an 80% chance of favorable weather during Monday’s one-minute launch window at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
On Twitter, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said analysis showed better odds on Monday of landing the Falcon 9 booster back at the Cape, which is considered a secondary, experimental mission objective.
Orbcomm on its Website said the launch team was taking more time to analyze data from Friday’s static fire test, which briefly fired the 230-foot rocket’s nine main engines, and to deep chill its liquid oxygen propellant.
If the launch goes off as planned Monday, after the rumble from the rocket’s climb subsides, the flight could be punctuated by a sonic boom signaling the Falcon 9 booster’s return from space.
Observers may then see the orange glow of an engine firing in darkness to slow the booster’s descent toward concrete pads at SpaceX’s “Landing Complex 1” near the nose of Cape Canaveral.
A successful touchdown on legs within 10 minutes of liftoff would be a breakthrough in Musk’s vision to lower launch costs by recovering and reusing rockets.
“It’s really a massive difference if we can make reusability work,” Musk said last week.
The anticipated attempt to fly the 14-story booster back to shore — something SpaceX has long said it was preparing to do — follows two near misses earlier this year by booster stages trying to land on platforms down range in the Atlantic Ocean. Both stages hit their target but ultimately crashed.
And it comes about a month after Blue Origin, a company started by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, showed such landings are possible, at least with a much smaller rocket that launched a capsule on a suborbital spaceflight from Texas.
Should residents near Cape Canaveral Air Force Station be worried about a rocket plummeting toward their backyards?
Officials say no.
As when the rocket is on its way up, the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing will be able to press a button to destroy the booster if its flight down appears headed dangerously for a populated area.
The Federal Aviation Administration would not issue a permit for the launch and landing if the agency thought they posed risks to the “uninvolved public.”
Still, all but non-essential personnel reportedly will be barred from the Air Force station. News media will not be allowed to watch the launch from the base as is usually the case.
And representatives from SpaceX, the 45th Space Wing and FAA recently met with Brevard County officials and emergency responders to brief them about what to expect.
“There would be an extraordinarily low chance, if any, of an off-site mishap,” said Brevard County Fire Chief Mark Schollmeyer, who participated in the meeting. “This is pretty much a non-event for us.”
SpaceX’s primary mission, of course, is to return the Falcon 9 to flight safely and deliver Orbcomm’s 11 OG2 satellites to their proper orbits about 500 miles up.
SpaceX started the year strong, launching its sixth Falcon 9 in as many months on June 28.
But just over two minutes into that flight of International Space Station cargo, a strut snapped in the Falcon 9’s upper stage. The liquid oxygen tank ruptured, causing the entire rocket to lose control and break apart.
“It’s quite emotionally traumatic, actually,” Musk said last week of the experience. “Rockets are hard.”
SpaceX has a backlog of satellite customers awaiting rides. NASA is counting on the Falcon 9 and Dragon to fly cargo to and from the station, and within about two years to start flying astronauts.
The Orbcomm mission is ideal for the Falcon 9’s return because it is a relatively simple one, requiring only one burn of the upper stage engine.
With upgrades that have increased its thrust at liftoff to 1.5 million pounds, the rocket will have far more power than it needs to get the 11 small satellites to a low orbit.
After the satellites are dropped off within about a half-hour, SpaceX plans to re-light the rocket’s upper stage engine in a test of what it must do to place satellites in much higher orbits on subsequent flights.
The 11 satellites will complete a constellation of 16 that has been a decade in the making for New Jersey-based Orbcomm, a publicly traded company specializing in machine-to-machine communications, sometimes referred to as the “Internet of Things.”
Orbcomm systems help track goods moving around the world, like trucks delivering inventory to Walmart stores or refrigerated rail cars transporting Tropicana orange juice.
Orbcomm enjoys a close relationship with SpaceX, having signed its first commercial launch contract, which initially anticipated flying on smaller Falcon 1 rockets that SpaceX discontinued.
CEO Marc Eisenberg says he has high confidence in the Falcon 9, in part because return-to-flight missions historically have higher success rates because of the intense focus placed on them.
SpaceX launched Orbcomm’s prototype OG2 satellite with a Dragon capsule in 2012. The Falcon 9 lost an engine on the way up, resulting in the prototype being left in low orbit that gave it little time to operate.
Last year, a Falcon 9 successfully delivered Orbcomm’s first six OG2 satellites, one of which has since failed in orbit.
As long as his satellites get where they need to go, Eisenberg said he fully supports SpaceX’s attempt to land the rocket booster.
“We’re SpaceX fans, so we’re rooting for them,” said Eisenberg. “If they can pull this off, to be associated with such a historic mission is exciting to us as well.”
Follow James Dean on Twitter: @flatoday_jdean
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded Sunday means the loss of important research equipment and supplies for the crew on board the International Space Station. But it won’t delay plans to send three more astronauts to the ISS next month.
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Minutes after liftoff, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying an unmanned Dragon capsule exploded above Cape Canaveral. The rocket blasted off from Launch Complex 40 under excellent weather conditions and had successfully completed a short test-firing.
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An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies for the International Space Station broke apart minutes after liftoff. As engineers analyze flight data to pinpoint what went wrong, NASA and SpaceX officials emphasize no negligence was involved.
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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying an unmanned Dragon capsule exploded after liftoff today from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
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