Launch Roundup: Falcon 9’s busy launch cadence struggles

by John Sharp

Following an extremely eventful week in Spaceflight, this week was expected to be a return to “business as usual”, with two SpaceX Starlink missions, one each from Vandenberg and Florida, and a Falcon 9 launching a customer satellite making up the launch manifest for the week. Unfortunately, the weather led to delays and cancellations, and a rare technical issue on a Falcon 9 cancelled the remaining launch, resulting in a week in which there were no orbital launches.

SpaceX is preparing Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center for the upcoming Falcon Heavy launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) GOES-U satellite on June 25. Due to this, Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) is taking the full brunt of launches from the East Coast and, in doing so, has seen remarkable turnaround times for every launch, but weather and other factors have reduced the cadence this week.

Heavy rain with lightning storms passed across Florida this week and this has caused delays, as Falcon 9’s are not allowed to fly when there is potential lightning. The 45th Space Wing Weather Division issued a forecast showing a 95 percent likelihood that conditions would not be suitable for launch early in the week, and this was indeed the case. This absence of launches doesn’t represent the extreme activity across the global launch market this year, and we can expect the cadence to pick up again in the very near future.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 10-2

SpaceX will continue to add Starlink v2 Mini satellites to the Starlink constellation as they launch the second batch of 22 Group 10 satellites to orbit. With bad weather forecast for during the initial launch window on June 12, liftoff was rescheduled for June 13, at 4:46 PM EDT (20:46 UTC), but this launch attempt was scrubbed part-way into propellant loading after delaying the liftoff time several times within the launch window.

The next launch opportunity for this mission was announced as Friday, June 14, at 4:31 PM EDT (20:31 UTC), with a launch window that lasts until 8:19 PM EDT (Saturday, June 15, 00:19 UTC). The liftoff time was adjusted twice before counting down to 5:07 PM EDT (21:07 UTC). At this point the nine Merlin engines appeared to ignite as usual, but the Falcon 9 aborted liftoff. This is an automatic scrub for the day as the super-chilled propellants cannot be held aboard the Falcon 9 while the rocket recycles.

SpaceX’s Kiko Dontchev commented in an X post that the Booster needed to be inspected, so the launch is now postponed until further notice.

Launching on a northeasterly trajectory to an orbit inclined 53 degrees, the booster, B1076, will land on one of SpaceX’s two East Coast autonomous droneships, Just Read The Instructions, approximately 600 km downrange.

Booster B1073 will be flying its 16th mission, having previously launched Starlink Group 4-15, SES-22, Starlink Group 4-26, Starlink Group 4-35, HAKUTO-R Mission 1, Amazonas Nexus, CRS-27, Starlink Group 6-2, Starlink Group 5-11, Starlink Group 6-12, Starlink Group 6-27, Starlink Group 6-37, Starlink Group 6-41, Bandwagon-1, and Starlink Group 6-58.

This booster was on target to be the quickest to fly its 16th flight. The last targeted liftoff would have made it 762 days, the current record is 839 days set by B1071.

 

SpaceX Falcon 9 | SES-24/Astra 1P

Now delayed and set to launch no earlier than June 18, at 5:35 PM EDT (21:35 UTC), a SpaceX Falcon 9 will loft the latest television satellite for SES — a leading provider of broadcast TV across Europe — from SLC-40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The SES-24/Astra 1P satellite will be launched into a geostationary orbit at 19.2 degrees east and will be one of the most powerful of its kind. The undeclared Falcon 9 booster is expected to land on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships.

SES-24 was built in Europe by Thales Alenia Space, in a partnership between Thales and Leonardo. The satellite is based on the successful Spacebus NEO satellite bus, produced at the Cannes Mandelieu Space Center, previously part of Alcatel Alenia Space, in France. This will be the 94th Spacebus to be launched since the first — Arabsat-1A — in 1985.

This NEO Spacebus derivative is the latest design from Thales Alenia. SES-24 uses the ‘all-electric’ option, which includes electrically powered thrusters. The Ku-band satellite is one of two being built under the current contract. SES-24 is a classic wide-beam satellite with 80 transponders, giving it the ability to broadcast up to 500 HDTV channels. The second satellite, SES-25/Astra 1Q, will be a complementary Ku-band satellite, able to provide both wide and tight-beam services as required.

This will be the first Astra satellite to be launched by SpaceX, as previous launches were performed by Atlas, Proton, and Ariane boosters. At seven meters tall and five tonnes weight,  SES-24 is a large payload, but well within Falcon 9’s capability of 8.3 tonnes. Once deployed in orbit, the spacecraft’s solar arrays will extend out to 45 m wide, providing 20 kW of power and making it “one of the most powerful satellites in geosynchronous orbit,” according to Florent Bire, who served as the assembly, integration, and test manager for Astra 1P at Thales Alenia Space.

SpaceX Falcon 9 | Starlink Group 9-1

This lanch has now been rescheduled to Tuesday, June 18, at 8:00 PM PDT (Wednesday, June 19 at 03:00 UTC).

(Lead image: Streak shot of Falcon 9 launching Starlink satellites Credit: Julia Bergeron for NSF)

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