Delayed gratification for Musk's rocket fanciers

Falcon 9 launch countdown stops at the last minute

The launch of SpaceX’s updated Falcon 9, with Bangladesh’s first satellite perched on top, was halted at the 58 second mark.

The infamously secretive rocketry boffins tweeted out a terse explanation blaming a “ground system auto abort” rather than anything to do with the booster itself.

The launch had already been delayed after a static firing of the engines left engineers wanting more time to look over the data.

Two important activities occur at the T-1 minute mark, according to SpaceX (PDF): the rocket’s flight computer begins its final prelaunch checks and the propellant tank begins pressurisation to flight pressure. At 45 seconds, the SpaceX launch director typically gives the go-ahead, but the countdown didn’t get that far on this occasion.

SpaceX are hoping to try again tonight at 2014 UTC, but the weather forecast (PDF) has worsened somewhat with a 30 per cent chance of clouds spoiling the fun, rising to 40 per cent if SpaceX feels it wants to prolong things into Saturday.

Few would fault SpaceX’s desire to ensure Bangabandhu-1 gets into orbit in one piece (as opposed to scattered over the Atlantic in many, smaller, pieces.) However, SpaceX also plans to ramp up reusability with the new version of the Falcon 9.

During a pre-launch press conference SpaceX boss Elon Musk explained the thinking behind the changes made for the Falcon 9 Block 5:

“The key to Block 5 is that it's designed to do ten or more flights with no refurbishment between each flight. Or at least no scheduled refurbishment between each flight. The only thing that needs to change is you reload propellant and fly again.”

Musk also wants to stick humans aboard the Falcon 9, with a view to competing with arch-rival Boeing in flying astronauts to the International Space Station next year:

“We need to exceed all of NASA's human-rating requirements for Block 5, and they are quite extensive. As well as meet all of the Air Force requirements for extreme reliability.”

SpaceX famously took a bit of stick (PDF) from former Apollo astronaut Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford and so demonstrating the reliability and safety of this final incarnation of the Falcon 9 could not be more important. ®

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