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SpaceX delays final rocket launch of the year

Falcon 9 launch now scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 with the NROL-108 payload at Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. (Image: SpaceX)
A SpaceX Falcon 9 with the NROL-108 payload at Launchpad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. (Image: SpaceX) (WKMG 2020)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – UPDATE: A scheduled SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch that will send a secret spy satellite into orbit will have to wait another few days after the company delayed the liftoff due to an issue detected with the rocket’s second stage.

The Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to liftoff at 9:45 a.m. Thursday but the launch was placed on hold about a minute beforehand. The launch window ran until 12 p.m. but the company decided to delay the liftoff at least 24 hours to allow more time to resolve the issue.

An auto abort was triggered 1 minute and 53 seconds before the first launch attempt due to a second stage sensor reading, according to the company. The pressure was higher in the second stage than engineers would like, according to SpaceX.

Both the payload and the rocket are healthy.

SpaceX initially said it would try again Friday to launch the National Reconnaissance Office satellite but later pushed the new launch time to Saturday morning to allow more time for checkouts.

The launch window opens at 9 a.m. and runs until noon.


ORIGINAL STORY: Weather conditions looked mostly favorable for the Space Coast’s last launch of the year on Thursday, a mission slated to include Earth-shaking sonic booms generated by a Falcon 9 booster’s descent to Cape Canaveral.

If schedules hold, SpaceX will face 70% “go” conditions at Kennedy Space Center for its launch of a secretive intelligence satellite owned by the National Reconnaissance Office.

“Overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning, a strong high-pressure system moving east from southern Texas will bring cooler, drier air to the Space Coast,” the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron said Tuesday. “The primary weather concern for Thursday is liftoff winds and the thick cloud layer rule associated with any lingering frontal cloudiness.”

Though not included in the “percent go” calculation at pad 39A, forecasters noted that upper-level winds could be a moderate risk by Thursday morning.

After liftoff, Falcon 9′s 162-foot first stage booster will separate from the second stage, then start its descent back toward Florida. Its target: Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, which is about 9 miles south of pad 39A.

As it descends toward the tip of the Cape, Space Coast residents and spectators should be prepared for the triple sonic booms generated by the booster, which are harmless save for a few frights and triggered car alarms.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was selected by the NRO for this mission, known as NROL-108. Though the intelligence agency rarely provides details about its payloads, mission artwork released Tuesday shows an angry, fanged gorilla beating its chest next to text that reads, “Peace Through Strength.”

“Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary,” the NRO said via Twitter. “Like the gorilla, our NROL-108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO’s commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies.”

Thursday’s launch will mark the 31st of the year for the Space Coast.

Launch details

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: NRO intelligence satellite
  • Launch Time: TBD
  • Launch Window: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET
  • Launch Pad: 39A at Kennedy Space Center
  • Landing: Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
  • Weather: 70% “go”

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