SpaceX is hoping for a special Thanksgiving after the maiden flight of the company’s upgraded Falcon 9 rocket was scrubbed in its first launch attempt today. It would mark the first Thanksgiving Day space launch from Cape Canaveral since 1959. SpaceX hopes to have better luck than NASA did on that day – that launch failed after liftoff. The 65-minute launch window for Falcon and its commercial payload, a communications satellite, opens at approximately 5:39 p.m. EST and will mark the first commercial satellite launch from the Cape in several years as cheaper foreign providers have cornered the market from the Delta and Atlas launch vehicles.
Today’s countdown was relatively smooth until the final minutes, which was pushed back three times by minor technical gremlins.
Launch time by 25 minutes during a hold at T-13 minutes because of concerns related to a first stage valve. The count picked up and progressed down to T-6 minutes, 11 seconds when the the auto-sequencer called an abort. A simple adjustment to telemetry instrumentation on the vehicles power systems allowed SpaceX to pick up the count, aiming for one last launch attempt at 6:30 p.m.
Launch was finally at T-3 minutes, 41 seconds because of “unexpected readings with the first stage liquid oxygen system.” With no time remaining in the launch window, SpaceX called it a day and began recycling for another day.
The next chance to launch isn’t until Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the United States.
Because this mission is a commercial flight, it is licensed under the jurisdiction of the FAA. In another first, the agency would not authorize launch attempts on the two days before Thanksgiving because of the heavy air traffic on those days and the complications and delays that could occur if air traffic over Florida had be to be rerouted.
And so, for the first time in 54 years, Cape Canaveral will see a space launch on Thanksgiving. SpaceX hopes to have better luck than NASA, whose Pioneer P-3 lunar probe was destroyed shortly after liftoff when the payload shroud failed on its Atlas-Able carrier rocket.
Regardless of FAA licensing, it is unlikely Falcon could fly on Tuesday or Wednesday. A powerful Thanksgiving storm is marching across the U.S. and will be over the middle of Florida Tuesday night. The cold front will bring high winds and heavy rain to the area, leaving chilly but sunny conditions in its wake.
The official weather forecast from the Air Force 45th Space Wing’s Weather Squadron calls for favorable weather and an 80% chance of acceptable conditions on Thursday.
“A low temperature of 42°F at the launch pad this morning will quickly increase to the mid-60s by noon,” according to the Forecast. Winds will be from the north-northeast gusting to 25 knots during the daylight hours, diminishing to 10 knots after sunset. Primary launch day concern: Liftoff Winds.
(UPDATE 11/28: This morning, the weather forecast was upgraded to a 90% chance of acceptable conditions.)
The SES-8 mission will launch the SES-8 commercial telecommunications satellite, an Orbital Sciences GEOStar-2 spacecraft. This hybrid Ku- and Ka-band spacecraft weighs 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) at launch. This mission will be the first Falcon 9 launch to a geosynchronous transfer orbit, delivering the satellite to a 295 x 80,000 km orbit at 20.75 degrees inclination.
The satellite will provide communications coverage of the South Asia and Asia Pacific regions. Co-located with NSS-6 at SES’s 95 degrees East orbital slot, its high performance beams will support rapidly growing markets in South Asia and Indo-China, as well as provide expansion capacity for direct-to-home (DTH), very small aperture terminal (VSAT) and government applications. The satellite is expected to provide 5 kilowatts of power to its payload of 33 Ku-band transponders.
LAUNCH DAY COUNTDOWN
Hour:Min – Event
T-13:30 – Vehicle is powered on
T-03:50 – Commence loading liquid oxygen (LOX)
T-03:40 – Commence loading RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene)
T-03:15 – LOX and RP-1 loading complete
T-00:06 – Falcon 9 terminal count autosequence started
T-00:02 – SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
T-00:02 – Range Control Officer (USAF) verifies range is go for launch
T-00:01 – Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks. Turn on pad deck and Niagara water
T-00:00:40 – Pressurize propellant tanks
T-00:00:03 – Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
T-0:00 – Falcon 9 liftoff
Hour:Min – Event
T+0:01 – Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
T+0:03 – 1st stage engine shutdown/main engine cutoff (MECO)
T+0:03 – 1st and 2nd stages separation
T+0:03 – 2nd stage engine start
T+0:04 – Fairing separation
T+0:08 – 2nd stage engine cutoff-1 (SECO-1)
T+0:27 – 2nd stage engine restart
T+0:28 – 2nd stage engine cutoff-2 (SECO-2)
T+0:33 – SES-8 satellite deployed
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