Hawthorne-based SpaceX Tuesday postponed the launch of a U.S. Air Force GPS satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida
SpaceX said the order to abort was triggered by the flight computer onboard the Falcon 9 rocket that was to have been used for the launch. Together with an earlier delay due to upper-level wind disruptions, the slowdown pushed the rocket past its launch window.
“Vehicle and payload remain healthy,” SpaceX tweeted. “Next launch attempt is tomorrow” at 6:07 a.m. Pacific time.
The launch of the GPS III SV01 satellite, nicknamed Vespucci in honor of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, was scheduled for 6:11 a.m. California time. It would have been the 21st launch of the year for SpaceX.
The company planned to use a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket for the launch. While the Block 5 variety of the Falcon 9 was designed to be re-usable in as many as 10 missions, SpaceX said it would not attempt to recover the rocket, meaning it will be allowed to splash into the sea.
It was unclear exactly why SpaceX — which prides itself on recovering rockets for future use by landing them back on the ground or on a barge at sea — will not attempt to recover the multimillion-dollar rocket. A company executive told reporters recently the rocket will not be outfitted with any landing equipment, and described the launch as a “challenging mission.”
SpaceX officially stated that it would not attempt to recover the rocket “due to mission requirements.” Some pundits have speculated that the parameters of the mission would not leave enough excess fuel for a booster-rocket reentry burn, or possibly that SpaceX’s customer — the Air Force — didn’t want a recovery effort to elevate the risk level for the overall mission.
The satellite itself was built by Lockheed Martin. A company executive said the satellite “will be the first step in modernizing the Air Force’s GPS constellation with the most powerful and resilient GPS satellites ever designed and built.”
The satellite that was to have been launched Tuesday was intended to join 31 GPS satellites already in orbit. Air Force officials said the constellation will “provide the `gold standard’ in positioning, navigation and timing services for more than 4 billion users worldwide.” SpaceX is already under contract to launch four more GPS III missions.
Vice President Mike Pence announced earlier this month that he would be attending Tuesday’s launch, which he called “an important step forward as we seek to secure American leadership in space.” It was not immediately known if he planned to attend Wednesday’s planned attempt.