SpaceX is ready to launch and land its reusable Falcon 9 booster just one month after an in-flight engine anomaly. Originally slated to occur April 16th, the Starlink-6 mission (seventh overall) sending the next batch of 60 flat-stack Starlink satellites to orbit slipped to Thursday, April 23rd following a successful static fire test of all nine Merlin 1D engines on Friday, April 17th.
However, weather conditions can sometimes be formidable in Florida. In a somewhat unprecedented move, SpaceX announced via the company’s Twitter account that the launch attempt would be moved up a day to Wednesday, April 22nd. The change allows the launcher to take advantage of more favorable weather conditions at the launch pad and recovery zone.
As identified by the 45th Weather Squadron of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the launch opportunity window on Wednesday, April 22nd, provides a 90% chance of ‘GO’ weather conditions, while the now back-up launch opportunity on Thursday deteriorates drastically to only a 50% chance of appropriate launch conditions. The weather change is due to a cold front that is expected to drop through the state on Thursday.
Weather conditions at the recovery zone also proved to be more favorable for a Wednesday launch. On Wednesday’s the recovery weather conditions have a “low” amount of risk as assessed by the 45th Weather Squadron, while the back-up launch day of Thursday brings “high” risk. Overall, launching on Wednesday avoids the risk of potentially dangerous cumulus clouds and wind, both at the ground level and aloft in the atmosphere.
Wednesday’s launch attempt will also serve as a return to attempted landing and recovery procedures for SpaceX. Following two failed booster recovery attempts with the most recent Starlink missions, SpaceX hopes to nail recovery efforts of the booster and protective fairing nose one halves today.
Along with a re-used booster, the Starlink-6 mission features a re-used protective nose cone, called a payload fairing. Unlike previous Starlink missions that have flown with a re-used fairing, Starlink-6 features a fairing half that was caught in the net of one of the recovery vessels while the other half was recovered following a soft water landing. This will be the first time that SpaceX is utilizing fairing halves recovered by different methods. Until now, the recovered fairings that have been used were plucked from the water of the Atlantic ocean after a soft water-landing.
On Sunday, April 19th, the autonomous spaceport drone ship, Of Course I Still Love, departed Port Canaveral for the recovery zone some 629km downrange quickly followed by the fairing recovery vessels, GO Ms. Tree and GO Ms. Chief. If successful, SpaceX will have successfully launched and landed the B1051 Falcon 9 booster for a fourth time.
At time of article publishing, SpaceX announced via Twitter that the launch attempt had moved even further up to a targeted liftoff time of 3:30pm EDT/19:30pm UTC from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX cover the launch live with a webcast scheduled to begin 15 minutes prior to launch found at https://www.spacex.com/webcast or viewed below.
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