CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – UPDATE:
SpaceX’s last launch of 2020 went off without a hitch from Florida’s Space Coast Saturday morning.
A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Kennedy Space Center at 9 a.m., sending a secret spy satellite owned by the National Reconnaissance Office into orbit.
A few minutes after launching the NROL-108 mission, SpaceX successfully landed Falcon 9′s 162-foot first stage booster at Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on Landing Zone 1 pic.twitter.com/mR18Qv3GoC— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 19, 2020
Saturday’s launch marked the 26th and final mission for SpaceX in 2020. CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood tweeted this is a new record for the company.
F9/NROL-108: This will be SpaceX's 26th Falcon 9 launch this year, a new record, and the 103rd F9 flight since the rocket's debut in 2010 (106 counting 3 Falcon Heavies); the 1st stage, making its 5th flight, will attempt a return-to-launch-site landing at Cape Canaveral— William Harwood (@cbs_spacenews) December 19, 2020
But that is not the only history SpaceX made this year.
In May, America went back to space nine years after the shuttle program ended. The private space company became the first to send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to space from American soil.
Behnken and Hurley flew in the world’s first commercially made crew Dragon capsule. It was also the first American spacecraft to carry astronauts since the space shuttle.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk was overwhelmed after the successful launch.
“I’m quite overcome with emotion on this day. It’s hard to talk frankly. It’s been 18 years working toward this goal, so it’s hard to believe this happened,” Musk said.
Last month, SpaceX sent four astronauts on Dragon to the International Space Station, becoming the largest crew of astronauts to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in nearly a decade.
SpaceX also continued its Starlink missions this year. Last month, it launched its 16th batch of internet satellites from Cape Canaveral. The goal is to create a constellation, or network, of satellites to provide internet to anywhere in the world, even remote areas.
There are close to 1,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit. SpaceX is now testing initial Starlink service across parts of Canada and the northern U.S.
ORIGINAL STORY BELOW
For its last launch of 2020, SpaceX is preparing to send up a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday that will send a secret spy satellite into orbit.
The launch window opens at 9 a.m. and runs until noon, when weather appears to be mostly favorable along the Space Coast.
According to the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron’s latest launch forecast, SpaceX faces 90% “go” conditions at Kennedy Space Center for its launch of a secretive intelligence satellite owned by the National Reconnaissance Office.
T-1 hour until Falcon 9 launch of the NROL-108 mission; all systems and weather look good. Webcast will go live ~15 minutes before liftoff → https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 19, 2020
“Today will be a chilly one across Central Florida with mostly clear skies and gusty northerly winds. On Saturday, winds will become easterly and weaken as the high-pressure center moves north towards the Mid-Atlantic,” forecasters wrote. “These onshore winds will bring clouds that develop over the warmer waters towards the Space Coast. The primary weather concern for an attempt Saturday is cumulus clouds associated with these coastal showers.”
According to the official forecast, conditions would be slightly less favorable on Sunday at only 70% “go” if SpaceX delays the launch another day.
Saturday’s launch attempt comes after multiple delays earlier in the week.
The Falcon 9 rocket was originally 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 then 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.
To allow additional time for checkouts, now targeting Saturday, December 19 for Falcon 9’s launch of NROL-108 https://t.co/bJFjLCzWdK— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 18, 2020
Triple sonic booms
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.”
Saturday’s launch will mark the 31st of the year for the Space Coast.
- 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: 90% “go”
Florida Today’s Emre Kelly contributed to this report.