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SpaceX forced to abort Falcon 9 launch at the last possible second

Published Mar 16th, 2020 5:36PM EDT
spacex launch
Image: Terry Renna/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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  • A SpaceX launch was called off after an automatic rocket abort on Sunday. 
  • The launch countdown had already finished, and the announcement of liftoff came before it was clear that the rocket wasn’t going anywhere. 
  • SpaceX will reschedule the launch, which included 60 of the company’s Starlink satellites, for a later date. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX was forced to call off the planned launch of its next Starlink satellite deployment yesterday after an automatic abort was triggered by an automated rocket system. A launch delay isn’t exactly rare, and SpaceX has had to delay countless missions due to weather and other issues that pop up out of nowhere, but this one reared its ugly head at the last possible second.

In fact, the abort was called so late in the launch sequence that the countdown ended and “liftoff!” was announced. The rocket, however, remained on the launch pad, and the announcement of the abort came shortly thereafter.

A launch delay or full abort can be called at any time before the rocket actually takes to the sky. In the case of poor weather conditions, the call can be made anywhere from hours to minutes before the expected launch. Typically, these delays come before the final seconds, so it was particularly odd to hear the announcement of rocket liftoff before the abort actually happened.

“Standing down today; standard auto-abort triggered due to out of family data during engine power check,” SpaceX explained in a tweet. “Will announce next launch date opportunity once confirmed on the Range.”

This launch was (and still is) special for a few reasons, not least of which is the fact that it will set a record for the reuse of a Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket on the pad right now has already been sent into space a whopping four times, and this will be its fifth mission, which is a record.

SpaceX has made a name for itself by making rocket launches easy and affordable for its various customers, including scientific institutions and private companies. This mission is a bit different. SpaceX isn’t sending a satellite into space for a paying customer, but rather deploying multiple tiny satellites as part of its own Starlink program.

Starlink is SpaceX’s home-grown communications network that it hopes will one day bring high-speed date to even the most remote parts of the planet. In order to do that, the company has to launch a whole bunch of satellites. We’re talking tens of thousands of tiny gadgets that will form a web around the globe. This launch, like many Starlink launches in the recent past, will see 60 of those satellites sent into space at the same time.

We don’t yet know when the launch will actually happen, but SpaceX’s launch schedule is typically packed, so it likely won’t be long.

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