SpaceX has delayed the launch of a NASA water-monitoring satellite to Friday (December 16) to allow more time to investigate a problem with its Falcon 9 rocket.
The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite was scheduled to lift off aboard a Falcon 9 on Thursday (December 15) at 6:46 am EST (1146 GMT). But SpaceX is now aiming for a Friday launch, at the same time.
“After SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket went vertical on Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, teams identified moisture in two Merlin engines on the first’s booster rocket stage,” NASA officials wrote in a brief update (opens in a new tab) Wednesday evening (December 14).
“The teams completed inspections of the rocket’s engines today, but will use the additional time to complete reviews and data analysis before a launch attempt,” they added.
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It is possible that the humidity detected in the two engines is water, given that a storm hit the Vandenberg area a few days ago. If so, Friday is a realistic launch target.
If it’s something else, such as propellant, there will probably be a bigger delay.
“Probably, if it’s anything other than water, we’d have to hold the launch and remove and replace those engines to ensure a reliable launch,” SpaceX civilian satellite missions director Julianna Scheiman said during a pre-launch press conference. launch. Wednesday afternoon.
The Falcon 9 is powered by nine Merlin engines in its first stage (hence the rocket’s name). The upper stage of the two-stage rocket sports a single Merlin, optimized for use in space.
SWOT is a joint effort of NASA and the French space agency CNES, with contributions from the Canadian and British space agencies. Once airborne, the satellite will measure the water levels of lakes, rivers and oceans around the world with unprecedented accuracy.
The mission data will give scientists a better understanding of our world’s waterways and how they are affected by climate change, among other applications, mission team members said.
Friday is shaping up to be a very busy day in spaceflight. SpaceX is scheduled to launch two missions that day in addition to SWOT. Both others will take off from the space coast of Florida. One will lift a batch of the company’s Starlink Internet satellites and the other will send out two satellites for telecommunications company SES.
Rocket Lab is also aiming for its first ever launch from US soil on Friday. On that mission, an Electron booster topped by three HawkEye 360 radio monitoring satellites will launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) or Facebook (opens in a new tab).