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Falcon 9 rocket launch scrubbed until Thanksgiving

Posted: November 25, 2013

SpaceX called off launch of a Falcon 9 rocket with a commercial telecommunications satellite Monday after several technical problems held up the countdown, delaying the flight until Thanksgiving Day.

Night falls on the Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral on Monday. Credit: SpaceX
After an initial delay to give engineers time to study a concern with a valve on the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage, the countdown was aborted twice in its final minutes by apparently unrelated technical glitches.

The first countdown hold came as the Falcon 9 rocket was switching from external to internal power supplies, and a second abort inside of four minutes to launch was triggered by "unexpected readings with the first stage liquid oxygen system," SpaceX said in a statement.

"The launch vehicle and satellite are in great shape and we are looking forward to the next launch opportunity on Thursday at 5:38 p.m. Eastern time (2238 GMT)," the statement said.

SpaceX's next opportunity to launch is Thanksgiving Day. Like all commercial launch vehicles, the Falcon 9 rocket requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to launch.

The FAA granted SpaceX's commercial launch license, but the regulatory agency did not authorize launch attempts Tuesday and Wednesday to avoid rerouting airplanes around Cape Canaveral on two of the busiest air travel days of the year.

The licensing obstacle means the Falcon 9 rocket is grounded until at least Thursday.

The U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing supports rocket launches from Cape Canaveral with tracking and communications assets. Going into Monday's launch attempt, the Air Force had agreed to work with SpaceX on Thanksgiving should the flight be delayed.

Assuming SpaceX resolves the problems seen in Monday's launch attempt and the Air Force formally agrees to work on Thanksgiving, the weather outlook for Thanksgiving is favorable, with an 80 percent chance of good conditions.

A low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico will push through Central Florida this week, but the inclement weather should be out of the area by Thursday evening.

"On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Gulf system approaches Florida with widespread clouds, precipitation and isolated thunderstorms (some possibly severe) throughout Central Florida. All of this unfavorable weather gives way to much colder and drier conditions on Thursday," Air Force meteorologists wrote in a forecast issued Monday morning. "Northerly winds gusting to 25 knots will slowly turn northeasterly by launch time so a threat of a coastal shower increases through the day. The primary concerns for a launch delay are cumulus cloud rule and liftoff winds."

The launch of the 224-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket is a crucial mission for SpaceX, who sees the mission as an opportunity to exploit an opening in the commercial launch market.

The California-based company, founded in 2002 by Internet and technology mogul Elon Musk, has already inked commercial contracts. But the launch of the SES 8 television broadcasting satellite will prove the Falcon 9 rocket's ability to loft a commercial spacecraft into geostationary transfer orbit, the drop-off point for most large communications payloads.

The mission is heading for an orbit reaching a high point more than 50,000 miles above Earth, farther than any SpaceX launch has achieved to date.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.