December 19th was supposed to be a banner day for the spaceflight industry. We expected as many as five launches in just one day, but things took a turn early on as the first rockets were set to take off. Of the five possible launches, only two of them headed into space as planned. Wednesday’s launch docket included some big names: SpaceX, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance (ULA), Arianespace, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The ISRO gave us early hope things would go well on Wednesday with its successful launch of a GSLV rocket (above) from Satish Dhawan Space Centre. It carried a new communication satellite into space, providing coverage across India. The other success came from Arianespace, which launched a Soyuz rocket carrying a French communication satellite called CSO-1 around midday. This launch was scrubbed on Tuesday because of high winds.
Blue Origin’s launch was the least certain. It had the New Shepard rocket on the launch pad Tuesday for yet another test flight, this time with some NASA science payloads onboard. It scrubbed that launch because of “ground infrastructure issues,” and opted to give it another shot on Wednesday. However, the technical issues were not yet resolved. So, Blue Origin has pushed that launch to early 2019.
SpaceX was set to launch a US Air Force satellite called GPS III SV01 yesterday. This launch was also originally planned for Tuesday, but a sensor malfunction prompted a delay. The launch window on Wednesday was short; from 9:07 AM ET to 9:33 AM ET. The sensor issue persisted, and SpaceX had to cancel again. It’s currently looking at December 22nd to try again.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9.
ULA intended to launch a super-secret satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office called NROL-71 late on Wednesday. However, it called off the launch at the last minute because of a hydrogen leak.
So, why all the launch delays? As with one of the early scrubs this week, weather is often a factor. Launch windows are short, and excessive wind or storms can make the risk too high. Most of this week’s delays are thanks to mechanical problems or glitches. It’s safer to delay when there’s any chance a rocket won’t perform perfectly. Fighting gravity is high-stakes, and failure means the loss of the payload. It costs much less to delay a launch than to replace an expensive satellite. Space is hard.
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