SpaceX issues sonic boom warning ahead of launch, landing attempt

Brevard residents most likely to hear sonic booms

By Emre Kelly, FLORIDA TODAY, Daniel Dahm - Digital Manager

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Space Age hand-me-downs are soaring to a whole new level.

On Tuesday, SpaceX plans to launch its first recycled rocket for NASA. The unmanned Falcon 9 -- last used in June -- will carry up a Dragon capsule that's also flown on a previous space station supply run.

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NASA's International Space Station manager, Kirk Shireman, said the risk of launching a recycled rocket is about the same as for a brand new one. He expects to be just as anxious as he always is at every launch.

"It's still a dangerous business," he told reporters Monday. Although NASA's best rocket experts conducted an extensive review of the recycled and meticulously inspected booster, there is never "zero risk," he pointed out.

The private SpaceX has launched recycled rockets three times before, on commercial satellite deliveries. And back in June, SpaceX launched a previously flown Dragon to the space station. This latest Dragon to fly -- loaded with nearly 5,000 pounds of food, gear and experiments, and likely some Christmas presents -- first flew in 2015.

While the notion of reusable rockets is hardly new -- NASA's now retired space shuttles reused main engines and booster segments -- SpaceX is intent on driving down launch costs by salvaging its boosters and other components, and reflying them again and again.

"This is the beginning of rapid and reliable reusability," said Jessica Jensen, a SpaceX manager. "We want to be able to send thousands of people into space, not just tens, and so reusability is a very key part of that, and we're excited because tomorrow is just one step closer to that."

As before, the first-stage booster will attempt to land back at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, prompting an alert to Central Florida may residents, who may hear sonic booms.

"There is the possibility that residents of Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties may hear one or more sonic booms during the landing attempt," SpaceX said in a statement. "Residents of Brevard County are most likely to hear a sonic boom, although what residents experience will depend on weather conditions and other factors."

A sonic boom is a brief thunder-like noise that a person on the ground hears when an aircraft or other vehicle flies overhead faster than the speed of sound. 

This will be the first launch in more than a year from Launch Complex 40. The pad was ruined when a SpaceX rocket exploded during testing in September 2016.

In a $50 million rebuild, SpaceX made the pad more robust, burying support equipment and fuel lines under concrete and steel.

Here's what you need to know: 

Launch vehicle: SpaceX Falcon 9 topped with Dragon spacecraft. Both previously flown – the booster in June 2017 and Dragon in April 2015.

Launch window: 11:46 a.m. (instantaneous).

Location: Launch Complex 40. This mission will mark the first launch at the pad since it was heavily damaged in a 2016 Falcon 9 explosion.

Weather: Conditions are expected to be 80 percent "go" on both Tuesday and, in the event of a delay, Wednesday.

Landing: The 156-foot-tall first stage of the rocket will return to land at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1 about 8 minutes after liftoff. Expect a powerful sonic boom to reverberate across the Space Coast during its descent.

Mission: Delivery of thousands of pounds of cargo, supplies and science experiments to the crew of the International Space Station.

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