SpaceX has delayed the launch of NASA’s Water Observing Satellite until Friday (December 16) to allow more time to investigate a problem with its Falcon 9 rocket.
The Surface Waters and Oceans (SWOT) satellite was scheduled to blast off atop Falcon 9 Thursday (Dec. 15) at 6:46 a.m. EDT (1146 GMT). But SpaceX is now targeting a launch on Friday, at the same early hour.
“After SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off perpendicular to the pad at Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, teams determined the moisture in the two Merlin engines in the first stage of the spacecraft,” NASA officials wrote in a press release. Rocket booster.” Brief update (Opens in a new tab) Wednesday night (December 14).
They added that “the teams completed inspections of the rocket engines today, but will use the additional time to complete data reviews and analysis prior to the attempted launch.”
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The moisture detected in the two engines is likely water, given that a storm rocked the Vandenberg area a few days earlier. If so, Friday is a realistic launch target.
If it was something else – a pusher, for example – there would probably be a longer delay.
“It’s likely, if it’s something other than water, that we’ll need to stop launching and remove and replace those engines to ensure we launch reliably,” Julianna Sheiman, SpaceX’s civilian satellite missions manager, said during a pre-launch press conference. Wednesday afternoon.
The Falcon 9 is powered by nine Merlin engines in its first stage (hence the rocket’s name). The two-stage rocket’s upper stage features a single Merlin rocket, optimized for use in space.
SWOT is a joint effort between NASA and the French space agency CNES, with contributions from the Canadian Space Agencies and the United Kingdom. Once in flyby, the satellite will measure water levels in lakes, rivers and oceans around the world with unprecedented accuracy.
Mission team members said the mission data will give scientists a better understanding of the world’s waterways and how they are affected by climate change, among other applications.
Friday is about to be a very busy day for spaceflight. SpaceX is expected to launch two missions that day in addition to a SWOT. Both will launch from the Space Coast in Florida. One will send a group of satellites of the Internet company Starlink, and the other will send two satellites of the telecommunications company SES.
Rocket Lab is also targeting Friday for its first-ever launch from US soil. On that mission, an electronic booster will launch with three HawkEye 360 radio-monitoring satellites from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Major Grand Publishing, 2018; illustration by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @tweet (Opens in a new tab) or Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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