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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket slowly vaulted off its Kennedy Space Center pad late Saturday, taking dozens of Starlink internet satellites to orbit and wrapping up one of two launches this weekend.
At 9:20 p.m. EDT, the 230-foot rocket kicked off its 14th flight to date and delivered 34 Starlink satellites, along with another communications spacecraft for AST SpaceMobile, to low-Earth orbit. It marked the 60th launch for the Starlink constellation that boasts more some 3,000 satellites.
The launch from pad 39A, originally set for 9:10 p.m. EDT, was delayed 10 minutes due to “no-go” weather conditions early in the count.
The booster’s record flight number – eight previous Starlink missions and five others – makes it SpaceX’s fleet leader. About nine minutes after launch, it landed on the “Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship, setting it up for refurbishment work and a potential 15th launch in the near future.
SpaceX has landed boosters 141 times since the first in December 2015.
Next Space Coast launch
But the Space Coast’s 39th launch of the year marked just one of two slated for this weekend. Yet another Falcon 9 is scheduled to boost the 61st batch of Starlink satellites at 10:53 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 11. It will be the 180th overall flight for SpaceX, 175 of which have been hosted by Falcon 9.
Space Force forecasters on Saturday said conditions should be 80% “go” for Sunday’s attempt.
“There will remain a chance of storms at the spaceport through the afternoon as some move back,” Space Launch Delta 45 forecasters said. “Most activity should be winding down by the initial launch window, but lingering anvils or a few outflow showers along the coast cannot be ruled out.”
In the event Falcon 9 can’t launch Sunday night, backup windows are available Monday and Tuesday.
NASA’s Artemis I status
NASA’s huge Artemis launch:It’s going to be loud, but how loud? That depends
At KSC’s nearby pad 39B, meanwhile, NASA teams are still working the hydrogen leak issue that scrubbed last week’s attempt at launching the Artemis I mission to the moon.
Officials during the week said technicians are attempting to fix the leak – and a previous temperature sensor issue discovered in one of four RS-25 main engines – using tents and other protective equipment at pad 39B. But a Space Launch System rocket rollback to the Vehicle Assembly Building, a process that could add several weeks to the timeline, has not yet been ruled out.
NASA is still waiting for clearance from the Space Force on whether or not the next attempt is feasible. Officials are hoping to target 6:47 a.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23, if the military branch grants a waiver related to the 322-foot rocket’s self-destruct system. Because the system needs to be re-certified in the VAB, NASA is hoping the waiver will prevent a rollback and get Artemis I off the pad faster.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.