CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – It’s going to be a busy three days on the Space Coast with three rocket launches scheduled for a history-making line up but to make this triple-header happen, the weather and rocketry must align.
“It could be a historic event for us this week,” 45th Space Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess said Wednesday, later adding, ”It’s a busy week for the team and we’re looking forward to it.”
The last time Florida saw three launches in one week was in 2001, according to Schiess.
First up, United Launch Alliance is set to send up a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office on its Delta IV Heavy rocket. The national security payload is known as NROL-44. Liftoff was set for Thursday morning from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station but the first attempt was scrubbed due to a technical issue.
ULA will try again Friday at 2:08 a.m.
The current forecast from the 45th Space Wing shows an 80% chance of favorable launch weather.
A Delta IV Heavy launch alone would be a treat to see because the powerful three-booster, 235-foot-tall rocket doesn’t launch very often. Ahead of the launch, ULA did something unusual with the rocket. It used the rocket and launch hangar as a backdrop to project an interactive video, known as 3D mapping.
The project took three years to complete because it’s a rocket with a national security payload on a base with restricted access. It’s the first time a real rocket has been used as a landscape for art, according to ULA. The idea came from ULA CEO Tory Bruno.
The next two launches scheduled for Friday and Saturday are both for SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets.
On Friday, SpaceX will launch a communications satellite for the Argentina space agency. The spacecraft is called SAOCOM-1B. It’s the second of two Earth-observation satellites for Argentina.
This particular launch is unique in two ways: the satellite requires a polar orbit to get above the South Pole. It’s the first satellite with a polar orbiting launching from Florida since Nov. 30, 1960. Most polar launches happen from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base because a polar launch from Florida puts the rocket trajectory over land, specifically Cuba.
“(The rocket) goes out and then starts on its southerly orbit. It will overfly Cuba, but it’ll be at an altitude that we’re safe,” Schiess said speaking of if there was a failure mid-launch over land.
In 1960, the last rocket to take this path did not make it, causing debris to rain down over Cuba. Schiess said safety precautions are much improved since then.
“I don’t know what the requirements for safety were back in 1960, but I know that we’re meeting all the safety requirements now, and it really comes down to being at the right altitude (and) speed at that time, to make sure that any debris that were to fall would be small enough, or not even impact any land,” Schiess said.
This launch will also including a landing back at Cape Canaveral, the first since March. All other rocket booster landings this year have been in the Atlantic Ocean on a droneship.
Launch is scheduled for around 7:19 p.m. from Launch Complex 40 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Weather forecasts say there is a 60% chance for good liftoff conditions.
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Finally, on Saturday SpaceX will launch its 12th round of internet-beaming Starlink satellites. This liftoff will happen from Kennedy Space Center Launchpad 39A at 10:30 a.m.
The rocket will deliver another 60 Starlink satellites growing SpaceX’s constellation above 600. The company plans to roll out internet service with the fleet later this year, according to SpaceX’s website.
SpaceX plans to land the rocket booster at sea and fly it again, per usual.
As launches go, between now and the first launch all this could change, the weather could cause a delay or a hardware issue could pop up.