HAWTHORNE (CNS) - Hawthorne-based SpaceX will make a third attempt today to launch a U.S. Air Force GPS satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida, but the company is already expressing doubts about the launch due to weather conditions.
The launch is scheduled for 6:03 a.m. California time. SpaceX warned on its Twitter page that weather conditions in Florida could jeopardize the launch, with only a 20 percent chance of favorable conditions as of Wednesday night.
The launch of the GPS III SV01 satellite, nicknamed Vespucci in honor of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, had originally been scheduled for 6:11 a.m. California time Tuesday. But an abort command was triggered by the flight computer aboard the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellite. A sensor issue also prompted a delay on Wednesday.
SpaceX will try again to launch the satellite at 6:03 a.m. California time Thursday but conceded that weather issues could prompt another delay.
The company will 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 will not attempt to recover the rocket, which 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 U.S. 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.”
When launched, the satellite will 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.