Just a day after SpaceX completed its test mission at a nearby launch pad, the company conducted an ignition test monday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the next launch of the Falcon 9 rocket,media reported. SpaceX said it was evaluating the best time for a launch because of the poor ocean surface weather in the recovery area of the Falcon 9 first-stage rocket and payload rectifier. The launch will carry 60 Starlink broadband satellites.
The launch was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but SpaceX is not expected to carry out the mission as scheduled.
On Monday afternoon, SpaceX’s launch team hosted an automated countdown program. After refueling the rocket, the Falcon 9’s 9 Merlin 1D main engine ignited in the countdown at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
The engine operates for about a few seconds, generating 1.7 million pounds of propulsion during that time, while the containment carrier simply holds the rocket and ensures that the Falcon 9 does not take off. In a cloud of exhaust and steam, the engine successfully stalled. SpaceX later confirmed on Twitter that static ignition testing was complete, a standard procedure for the company’s launch mission. During Monday’s ignition test, the Starlink satellite and the Falcon 9’s head cone shield were placed on top of the rocket.
In September 2016, a Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a static ignition test, as did the Israeli communications satellite already on board. Since then, the Falcon 9 has not carried a payload for ignition testing. But since the Starlink satellite is made by SpaceX itself and owned by the company, the company can decide for itself how to launch the Starlink launch.
The rocket was originally scheduled to launch at 11:59 a.m. Eastern time tuesday, but SpaceX said its launch team was evaluating the best time for the launch because of “extreme weather in the recycled waters.”
SpaceX has deployed ships in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral to prepare for the vertical landing of the Falcon 9’s first-stage thruster and the recovery of the rocket’s load rectifier. The load shroud will split in half minutes after the rocket launch and return to Earth under parachute action, and a fast-moving vessel equipped with a giant net will try to capture the shroud.
The Falcon 9’s first-stage thruster has been reused several times. Last year, SpaceX began recycling rectifiers and head cone shields for the first time in a bid to further reduce launch costs.
The 60 Starlink satellites launched this time will form part of SpaceX’s Starlink network, along with 180 satellites from the previous three launches. Eventually, the Starlink network will contain thousands of satellites that will send broadband Internet signals to users around the world.
SpaceX said it hopes to begin providing regional broadband services to Canada and the northern United States through a partial fleet of Starlink satellites by the middle of this year once 12 Starlink launches are complete. After 24 launches, Starlink services are expected to reach Internet consumers around the world, the company said.
The launch, which is already on the agenda, is SpaceX’s third this year.