SpaceX postpones launch of communications satellite on its Falcon 9 rocket due to high winds

Loren Grush

SpaceX has postponed a planned launch of its Falcon 9 rocket tonight due to high winds. The launch was originally scheduled for the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and was to take place from Cape Canaveral, Florida, lofting a communications satellite into orbit for satellite operator EchoStar. The company said it was now working toward the next launch opportunity, which expected to take place in 48 hours, at 1:35AM ET on Thursday morning.

The satellite to be launched by the Falcon 9 rocket is called EchoStar XXIII, and will sit in a high orbit above Earth and provide broadcast services for Brazil. Unlike the majority of SpaceX's launches over the past couple years, this mission will not include a rocket landing post-takeoff, as CEO Elon Musk announced in a tweet in January. That's because EchoStar XXIII is a particularly heavy satellite that's going to an orbit about 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface. Those two factors combined mean the Falcon 9 will need a lot of fuel for the launch, leaving little fuel leftover to perform a rocket landing.


This could be one of the last expendable launches SpaceX does for a while. Musk also tweeted that missions like EchoStar XXIII (heavy payloads going to high orbits) would launch on the Falcon Heavy — the future heavy-lift vehicle SpaceX is developing that's essentially three Falcon 9s strapped together. Such missions could also fly on an upgraded version of the Falcon 9, called Block 5, in the future. This iteration of the Falcon 9 will supposedly be the final upgrade for the rocket, and it's supposed to improve the vehicle's performance and make it easier to reuse. Musk says Block 5 will fly for the first time by the end of the year.

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The launch — when it eventually takes place — will be the company's second from Launch Complex 39A, a prominent site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The pad at LC39A has been used for some of the most historic space missions, including Apollo 11 that took people to the Moon for the first time, as well as the last launch of the Space Shuttle in 2011. SpaceX signed a lease with NASA in 2014 to move into LC39A and refurbish the pad to accommodate flights of the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, which is supposed to fly for the first time this summer.

For the foreseeable future, SpaceX will be relying on LC39A for all its Florida launches, since the company's other pad at the Cape — Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station — is still out of commission; the site was badly damaged in September, when one of SpaceX's Falcon 9s exploded during a routine fueling procedure on the launchpad. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell recently noted that repairs to the pad at SLC-40 could be done this summer.

SpaceX had a two-and-a-half-hour launch window tonight, but the decision to cancel the attempt was made early on, before the official launch time of 1:34AM ET. Prior to the launch, scientists at Patrick Air Force Base gave only a 40 percent chance that conditions would be favorable, with thick clouds and high winds in the area. SpaceX's next attempt is expected to take place on Thursday at 1:35AM ET.