SpaceX is set to launch a pair of satellites this morning, just two-and-a-half weeks after its last successful rocket launch and landing in May. It’s SpaceX’s sixth launch this year, and this time, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket will be lifting two communications satellites into orbit — one for the French company Eutelsat and the other for Bermuda-based company ABS. The vehicle is scheduled to take off at 10:29AM ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but if for some reason the rocket doesn’t go up right away, it can launch anytime afterward for 45 minutes.
As is routine, the company will attempt to land the rocket after takeoff
As is routine with SpaceX launches these days, the company will attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 — the main portion of the rocket that houses the engines and fuel — after takeoff. The stage’s target is SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which is currently floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The landing attempt will occur just a few minutes after the first stage separates from the second stage. That’s the top portion of the Falcon 9 that carries the satellites further into space.
In a press release, the company noted that pulling off the landing will be difficult this time, since the Falcon 9 is taking the satellites to a very high orbit above Earth known as geostationary transfer orbit, or GTO. Launching payloads this high leaves less fuel for the rocket's return trip to Earth. However, SpaceX has made that disclaimer for its past two launches to GTO, but it was able to stick the landings both times.
If SpaceX does pull it off, it will be the fourth time the company has landed the Falcon 9 on a floating drone ship at sea, and the fifth vehicle to be recovered post-launch. That means the company’s hangar at Cape Canaveral — where these landed Falcon 9s are stored — will be at full capacity soon, since it can only house five rockets at a time. SpaceX plans to move some of those vehicles to the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, where they will undergo further testing to see if they are capable of going to space again. Eventually, SpaceX hopes to relaunch one of their landed rockets sometime this fall.
Right now, weather looks pretty good for today’s launch; there’s an 80 percent chance the conditions will be favorable, according to Patrick Air Force Base. Live coverage of the event begins about 20 minutes prior to launch, at 10:09AM ET.