Despite bad weather that forced SpaceX to stand down from a Starlink launch planned earlier this morning, the company is still on track to attempt the first East Coast polar launch in half a century later this evening.
Known as SAOCOM 1B, the Argentinian spacecraft scheduled to launch on Falcon 9 is the second in a pair of large Earth observation radar satellites, using an advanced form of radar to analyze vast swaths of the planet’s surface. SpaceX launched SAOCOM 1A in October 2018.
Originally scheduled to launch as early as March 30th, 2020, SAOCOM 1B has suffered extensive delays as a result of coronavirus-related travel and work restrictions. At long last, the 1600 kg (~3500 lb) satellite is vertical at the LC-40 launch pad atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but Florida’s temperamental summer weather threatens to delay the mission into September.
Per the 45th Space Wing tasked with range support for all Cape Canaveral launches, the forecast for SpaceX’s SAOCOM 1B launch predicts conditions will be just as bad as the weather that forced SpaceX to scrub its 10:12 am EDT Starlink-11 launch attempt. Said forecast shows a 60% chance of weather constraint violation (40% GO) due to cumulus and anvil cloud (i.e. thunderstorm) formation, among other concerns. While somewhat unrelated, photographers were unable to set up cameras on time due to a massive, hours-long lightning storm over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
With any luck, though, SpaceX will be able to thread the needle between prevailing weather conditions and safely launch SAOCOM 1B. Historically, the company has managed to successfully launch in spite of very discouraging weather forecasts, which is why it almost never aborts launch attempts until the last minute when weather is a concern – conditions can very quickly change.
SAOCOM 1B is the first polar launch attempt from the US East Coast in more than half a century after debris from a failed rocket struck and killed a cow on Cuban land in 1969. By adding a ‘dogleg’ maneuver to tweak its trajectory mid-flight, Falcon 9 will theoretically be able to minimize the risk of a similar accident occurring while still recovering the rocket booster and (perhaps) its payload fairing halves.
After liftoff, Falcon 9 booster B1059 will attempt to return to Cape Canaveral to land at one of SpaceX’s land-based Landing Zones for the first time in almost six months. Fairing recovery ship Ms. Chief is on site to attempt to catch and recover one or both halves of the SAOCOM 1B mission’s Falcon fairing, while twin ship Ms. Tree is several hundred miles north to attempt the same feat after SpaceX’s Starlink-11 launch (now NET September 1st).
SAOCOM 1B is scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) 7:18 pm EDT (UTC-4) on August 30th. An official webcast will begin around 7 pm.
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