CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX is preparing for a potential launch doubleheader on Sunday (Aug. 30), and you can watch the action live online.
On Sunday morning, the company’s Starlink internet megaconstellation is expected to grow as SpaceX plans to launch an additional 60 satellites into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Just nine hours later, a different Falcon 9 is slated to deliver the Argentinian satellite SAOCOM-1B into a polar orbit, marking the first such mission to fly from the Cape since the 1960s.
The Starlink mission is scheduled to launch from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 10:12 a.m. EDT (1412 GMT). SAOCOM-1B will fly from SpaceX’s other Florida launch pad, at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. That liftoff is scheduled for 7:18 p.m. EDT (2318 GMT).
You can watch both launches live here
and on our homepage, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning about 15 minutes before liftoff. You’ll also be able to watch the launches directly from SpaceX.
Related: SpaceX’s Starlink satellite megaconstellation launches in photos
The launch doubleheader is contingent upon a couple of factors. First, the weather needs to cooperate, and summertime in Florida can be tricky. The most recent weather reports issued by the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron do not look terribly promising, with a 50% chance of favorable conditions for Starlink and only a 40% chance of favorable conditions for SAOCOM-1B.
SpaceX also needs to get launch approvals from the Eastern Range, the entity that oversees all launch operations on the East Coast. The company announced potential launch times on Friday (Aug. 28), but those assumed that United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket would launch early Saturday morning (Aug. 29) from Cape Canaveral, which did not happen.
The Delta IV Heavy’s engines ignited and its on board computers quickly shut them down after detecting an anomaly. ULA has not yet announced what caused the shutdown but has said it will be at least a week before its triple-barrel rocket will attempt to fly again.
The Delta IV Heavy launch directly affects SpaceX’s plans because it will deliver a national security payload. The satellite perched atop the massive rocket is a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency. There’s a hierarchy when it comes to launch payloads, with NRO satellites receiving priority over all other missions, followed by civilian (such as NASA) and then finally commercial payloads.
SAOCOM-1B will be the first satellite launched into a polar-orbiting trajectory from Cape Canaveral since the 1960s. Typically, polar-orbiting missions are launched from the West Coast, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That’s because they can fly north or south over open water, which is not the case in Florida.
Most launches from Florida blast off on an easterly trek, while polar launches need to go north or south. In late 1960, debris from a Thor rocket reportedly fell on Cuba and killed a cow. This incident resulted in polar launches being moved to California.
Officials were later able to secure the rights to launch this type of mission from Florida, but only if the rocket had an automated flight termination system, which the Falcon 9 does. For the SAOCOM-1B mission, the Air Force secured a southerly corridor that passes over Cuba, while the rocket’s first stage will return to land and touch down at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.
There is some concern that the SAOCOM-1B mission’s unique flight path puts Space Launch Complex 37 (and the Delta IV Heavy) in the hazard zone. Since ULA was unable to get the Heavy off the ground Saturday morning, there was some speculation that the SAOCOM-1B mission would have to stand down until further notice. However, SpaceX’s communications team tweeted that, as of Saturday afternoon, both missions were still on for Sunday.
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