Scrubtober strikes again: faulty SpaceX rocket camera aborts Starlink-14 launch

Following Falcon 9 B1060's successful GPS III SV03 launch and Starlink-11 reuse, the US military has unexpectedly permitted two upcoming launches to reuse SpaceX boosters. (Richard Angle)

Update: SpaceX’s next Starlink-14 launch attempt appears to be scheduled no earlier than (NET) 11:31 am EDT (15:31 UTC), Saturday, October 24th, ending the possibility of Falcon 9 booster B1060 setting a new turnaround record. If successful, the mission will still mark the first time SpaceX has complete three Starlink launches in one month.

CEO Elon Musk says that a faulty camera on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s new upper stage lead the company to abort its October 22nd Starlink-14 launch attempt around 15 minutes before liftoff.

The abort continues what has been less than affectionately termed “Scrubtober” after a relentless string of delays that actually began closer to mid September or even late August. Multiple delays for ULA’s Delta IV Heavy NROL-44 launch quickly snowballed into several SpaceX Falcon 9 launch delays, follower by additional weather-related SpaceX launch delays in September. Then, once again, additional ULA NROL-44 delays caused additional Falcon 9 delays, followed by two rare technical delays for the same SpaceX missions.

The Starlink mission in question finally launched on October 5th, while SpaceX’s third US military GPS III satellite launch was indefinitely scrubbed when an issue with several booster engines triggered a last-second abort. Thankfully, SpaceX was able to launch another Starlink mission – Starlink V1 L13 or Starlink-13 on October 18th – albeit only after more than a week of delays. Now, already delayed by 24 hours for unknown reasons, SpaceX’s Starlink-14 mission suffered its own launch abort just ~15 minutes before liftoff, continuing the plague that is Scrubtober.

Set to deliver another ~16 metric ton (~35,000 lb) batch of 60 Starlink v1.0 satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO), Starlink-14 will be SpaceX’s 14th operational Starlink launch and 15th overall, as well as the 13th Starlink launch in 2020 alone.

As usual, the mission will use SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, a two-stage, 70m (~230 ft) tall launch vehicle powered by liquid oxygen and refined kerosene (RP-1) propellant. Weighing more than 550 metric tons (1.2 million lb) fully fueled, the first stage (booster) produces more than 7600 kilonewtons of thrust (1.7 million lbf) at liftoff with nine Merlin 1D engines. On the global stage, Falcon 9 is the most reliable operational launch vehicle in the world, having consecutively completed 67 successful missions since January 2017.

Falcon 9 booster B1060 remains ready for its third launch. (Richard Angle)

Continuing to demonstrate the ironic fact that SpaceX’s flight-proven rockets have begun to be more reliable than new hardware, Falcon 9 booster B1060 – onto its third launch and landing – apparently remains ready for launch despite issues with a camera on Starlink-14’s new expendable upper stage. As previously discussed on Teslarati, B1060 was on track to set a new world record for orbital-class rocket turnaround, launching twice in 49 days if Starlink-14 had avoided today’s abort. Set by another Falcon 9 booster just three months ago, SpaceX could still break its own 51-day turnaround record if it can inspect and recycle the rocket for another Starlink-14 launch attempt on October 23rd.

Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
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