This summer is shaping up to be packed full of SpaceX launches: another one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets set to take off this evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This time, the vehicle is tasked with launching a communications satellite into a high orbit for the company Intelsat. This comes just a little over a week after SpaceX’s “doubleheader” weekend, when it launched two rockets in just 49 hours.
Unlike most SpaceX launches lately, this rocket will not attempt a landing after takeoff. The change likely has to do with the satellite that the company is launching. The probe, called Intelsat 35e, weighs more than 13,000 pounds, making it one of the heaviest satellites SpaceX has ever launched. It’s also going to a particularly high orbit above Earth called geostationary orbit, which is a path 22,000 miles up. Those two factors combined mean the Falcon 9 will have to burn a lot of fuel to get the satellite where it needs to go, so there won’t be much propellant leftover to perform a controlled landing.
Still, if the mission gets off the ground, it’ll mark the third launch the company has done in two weeks. That’s a pretty impressive launch frequency for SpaceX, or really any commercial spaceflight company. Typically, the number of launches a company will pull off each year hovers somewhere in the single digits, or maybe a dozen or so at best. But this launch will be SpaceX’s 10th mission of the year — and it’s only July. Last year, the company successfully completed eight launches. SpaceX has already surpassed that number and there’s still half a year left to go.
Although SpaceX won’t attempt a landing this time, the company has seen unwavering success with its rocket recoveries this year. Out of the nine missions that have launched so far in 2017, SpaceX attempted to recover seven of those rockets. And all have successfully landed, either at the company’s ground-based landing zone in Florida or one of the company’s two drone ships floating in the ocean. As of now, SpaceX has pulled off 13 successful rocket landings.
Some of those landings were done with used rockets. SpaceX has now successfully launched and landed two Falcon 9s that have gone to space and back, just a little over two years after the company first started attempting these landings. For this launch, though, SpaceX is using a new Falcon 9. But the company expects to use up to six used rockets again before the year is over, all as part of the long-term goal of reducing the cost of access to space. So the type of rocket being used for this mission — a new, expendable vehicle — is turning into something of an oddity for SpaceX.
SpaceX has had some hiccups getting this rocket flying, though: the launch was originally scheduled for Sunday evening from the pad at 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but the mission was aborted just nine seconds before takeoff, after the computer detected something “out of limits.” Another launch attempt occurred Monday evening from 39A, but it was again called off nine seconds prior to liftoff due to a “violation in abort criteria.” Hours later, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the launch wouldn’t come until July 5th or 6th at the earliest, pending a “full review” of the rocket and its launchpad systems.
We're going to spend the 4th doing a full review of rocket & pad systems. Launch no earlier than 5th/6th. Only one chance to get it right …— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 4, 2017
Now it seems that review is complete and the company is ready to try again tonight. Takeoff is scheduled for 7:38PM ET, but there’s a roughly one-hour window, so the rocket can launch up until 8:35PM ET. Once the satellite does finally launch, it will join three other similar Intelsat probes in orbit to provide coverage to the Americas, Europe, and Africa.
Check back just before launch time to see if this Falcon 9 will make it to space tonight.
Update July 5th, 10:35AM ET: This article has been updated six times to reflect multiple changes to the launch time.