Exhaust plumes may prevent 2 rocket launches on same day from Cape

SpaceX, United Launch Alliance both targeted launches Thursday

By James Sparvero - Reporter

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - It's been 40 years since two rockets lifted off from Cape Canaveral within a 24-hour span and now, in the age of commercial spaceflight, SpaceX just tried making it happen this week, head-to-head with its main rival.

After scrubbing last weekend's Falcon 9 rocket launch, SpaceX hoped to fly after midnight Thursday, just 16 hours before liftoff of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

Tuesday, however, NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn confirmed only ULA has received Air Force approval to launch Thursday or Friday

"We were aware of SpaceX, due to the fact that they didn't launch. They had requested March 1,” Dunn said.

An Air Force spokeswoman also confirmed that only ULA was scheduled to launch on Thursday.

"The 45th SW is proceeding with the launch of Atlas V GOES-S on March 1. Range officials are still working with SpaceX to secure a launch date for the SpaceX HISPASAT mission. Range safety is the top priority, thus every launch requires the appropriate amount (of) analysis along with deliberate and disciplined discussions with the 45 SW team and key stakeholders. We look forward to supporting a successful Atlas V GOES-S launch on Thursday with our mission partners," the Air Force spokeswoman said in a statement.

The companies' pads are just a mile apart so there was a fear exhaust plumes from the SpaceX launch might damage ULA's cargo -- NOAA's GOES-S next-generation weather satellite.

Dale Ketcham of Space Florida said two commercial launches on the same day is possible due to new safety automation and other upgrades to cut the time between missions.

"Now, we're moving much more space-based that requires much less manpower and thus, the costs go down," Ketcham said.

Ketcham credited innovation from the Air Force and commercial spaceflight leaders.

"The ingenuity of people like Elon Musk and others to make things faster and smoother is really going to open the market place to a lot more launches here and that's a good thing to us,” he said.

The ULA launch is set for 5:02 p.m. Thursday.

A new launch date for SpaceX has not been confirmed.

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