SpaceX launches ride-sharing rocket a day after helicopter causes scrub

FAA: Helicopter violated no-fly zone, investigation underway

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – It was the second take for SpaceX Wednesday that did the trick as the company launched a Falcon 9 rocket with 88 payloads from Cape Canaveral a day after a helicopter encroached on the no-fly zone causing the private company to scrub the first liftoff attempt.

A Falcon 9 blasted off at 3:31 p.m. from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Launch Complex 40 with the Transporter-2 mission. The ride-sharing flight includes 85 spacecraft from various companies and research institutions as well as three SpaceX Starlink satellites.

[TRENDING: Freedom Week: What it means | Condo searchers eye tropical forecast | Wayward chopper delays SpaceX launch]

After completing its job of delivering the second stage to orbit, the rocket booster separated, flipped around and came back down successfully landing about 5 miles from the launchpad at Landing Zone 1. It marked the first land booster return for SpaceX since December. The company normally lands its 162-foot-tall boosters at sea on autonomous drone ships.

Cloud cover surrounded the launch and landing but SpaceX was able to “thread the needle,” sending up its rocket through the cloudy sky. SpaceX pushed the liftoff time by about 30 minutes as it waited for the weather to cooperate.

SpaceX’s first launch attempt was scrubbed Tuesday after a helicopter violated the Federal Aviation Administration no-fly zone around the pad.

“A privately operated helicopter violated a restricted area in the final seconds before a scheduled launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida this afternoon,” the FAA said in a statement. “Air traffic controllers immediately directed the pilot to leave the area. For safety and security reasons, the launch was scrubbed.”

The FAA is investigating the incident and SpaceX founder Elon Musk voiced his displeasure after the delay and FAA regulations.

Musk posted on Twitter the “keep out zone ... is unreasonably gigantic.”

“There is simply no way that humanity can become a spacefaring civilization without major regulatory reform,” Musk added in a follow-up tweet. “The current regulatory system is broken.”

Several witnesses reported a helicopter near Jetty Park, a popular launch viewing spot on the Space Coast, flying along the coast within an hour of the liftoff window.

The FAA, the U.S. Coast Guard and Space Launch 45 issue restrictions ahead of launches on the Eastern Range for boaters and aircraft. For SpaceX’s astronaut launch last summer, the FAA issued 30-nautical-mile no-fly zone which was larger than normal.

Boaters on Tuesday were asked to avoid the launch hazard area about 19 miles south of the launch pad. Flight restrictions around the pad normally begin about two hours ahead of a planned launch.

The pilot of the wayward helicopter who flew within the keep-out zone could face fines.

News 6 has requested more information from the FAA on the investigation.

Use the form below to sign up for the space newsletter, sent every Wednesday afternoon.