The countdown clock steadily ticked against the Falcon 9 rocket on Friday night, reaching T-2 seconds before the launch of the valuable satellite positioning system satellites ceased. In just two days, the Falcon 9 release was canceled for the second time in a row, with a countdown left in seconds.
“Unexpected ground sensor readings” automatically halted the Starlink launch on Thursday T-18 seconds. And on Friday evening, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, “an unexpected pressure rise in the turbomachine gas generator” caused the scrub. In this case, the turbomachine pressurizes the gas that goes into the “gas generator”, which in turn is a small engine that powers the larger Merlin rocket engine.
So what is happening? SpaceX has now launched its Falcon 9 rocket more than 90 times, and prior to this week there was almost exclusively weather-related delays, not technical problems with the rocket or ground systems.
Musk also wants to know. After a continuous scrub, he announced via Twitter that he would visit the company’s two launch sites in Florida. The Starlink mission awaits a second launch attempt).
Next week visit
Musk wants to increase the cadence so SpaceX can reach 48 launches in 2021. This will more than double the company’s previous record of total number of missions over the year. A technical scrub like this week will stop this. For frequent releases, smooth operation is required.
“We are conducting an extensive review this weekend of President, Propulsion, Structural, avionics, scope and regulatory constraints.” Musk Tweet. “We’ll also be looking at the hardware ourselves at Cape next week.”
This visit is noteworthy as Musk currently spends most of his time working on the company’s next-generation launch system, Starship, in Boca Chica, Texas. Now he’s going to refocus on the Falcon 9 for a while.
This is important because Musk serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Engineer of SpaceX. He leads the discussions at all senior technical meetings in the executive boardroom at the SpaceX plant in Hawthorn, California, or at the larger boardroom at Boca Chica.
He has always been the power of animation behind SpaceX’s technical excellence. If Musk is somewhere, things are done. He constantly moves forward, asking why he can’t do things faster, better and cheaper. He is good at motivating employees to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. So coming to Florida, Musk not only reminds the launch team of his expectations, but also lends his technical expertise to the countless challenges of launching rockets on time.
SpaceX will have the next opportunity soon. The company’s Starlink-12 mission is currently delayed twice (once due to bad weather and ground system issues) and is scheduled to begin on Monday, October 5th at 7:46am EDT (11:46 UTC). We will watch with great interest.
Listing images Trevor Mahlmann of Ars Technica