SpaceX delay in California launch due to engine data review
SpaceX delayed the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from California with a U.S.French environmental monitoring satellite on Thursday to Friday to allow more time to examine the source of moisture in the booster engines.
Vandenberg Space Force Base was to launch the mission to launch the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite (SWOT) at 3:46 AM PST (6:46 AM EST; 1146 GMT). NASA, which is the primary sponsor of the SWOT mission, said that the launch will now be at the same time on Friday.
Forecasters at Vandenberg predict that Friday will be a sunny day and SpaceX will launch in a 10-minute window.
This launch is one of three Falcon 9 rockets scheduled to launch on Friday. SpaceX Florida teams are preparing two Falcon 9 rockets to launch from different launch platforms Friday afternoon. They will carry two O3b-mPOWER broadband satellites into space for SES and another batch of SpaceX’s Starlink internet relay stations.
SpaceX’s director for civil satellite missions Julianna Scheiman stated Wednesday in a press conference that technicians found moisture in two of the rockets’ first stage Merlin engines. This was during launch preparations. Officials suspect that the moisture was likely caused by heavy rains that fell on Falcon 9 last week while it was at the launch pad for engine test-firing.
She stated that SpaceX would perform further inspections of the Vandenberg launch pad engines later Wednesday in order to determine if the moisture is caused by water intrusion or another cause. She said that if it is water, the launch would likely go ahead. She said, “If it is not water, we will have to stand down to replace those engines in order to launch reliably.”
SpaceX launch from California delayed to review engine datahttps://t.co/aFZ9RGHZ0b
— Space Launch Schedule (@SpaceLaunches) December 15, 2022
Another possibility for moisture is a leakage of kerosene or fluid in the reusable engines following their refurbishment after a previous launch. The SWOT mission’s first stage booster is B1071, and it is scheduled to fly its sixth flight into space. After liftoff, the booster will make a propulsion landing at Vandenberg in seven-and-a half minutes.
NASA released a brief statement Wednesday night stating that while inspections of the rocket’s engines were completed today, they will take the extra time to review data and analyze the results before the launch attempt.
NASA and CNES (the French space agency) jointly developed the SWOT mission to conduct the first global survey on Earth’s surface waters. The SWOT mission builds on previous satellites that measured rising sea levels as well as the height of ocean waves. SWOT is a new instrument that sees finer details in ocean surface roughness and can extend water measurements to freshwater bodies such as lakes and rivers.
“SWOT will give nearly a complete picture of the Earth’s surface water,” stated Ben Hamlington (a sea-level researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory). “Data from SWOT will be used to provide information about daily life and livelihoods. It will cover the ocean and land.
The Falcon 9 rocket will launch the SWOT satellite to an orbit 532 miles (857 km) above Earth. It will be at an angle of 77.6 degrees to Earth’s Equator. SWOT will launch its main science instrument, the two-wing radar interferometer. The mission will end in the first week. Science operations will begin in mid-2023.
Tahani Amer (NASA’s program executive) said that SWOT was a game-changer. “Water is the link between us all and we are thrilled to share the SWOT data.”