Bad weather on Saturday created a rocket domino effect that will now see United Launch Alliance try to send the U.S. Space Force’s experimental mini space shuttle back into orbit on Sunday while a planned SpaceX launch of its Starlink satellites shifted to Monday.
United Launch Alliance had two shots Saturday morning at launching the Space Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, but high winds and clouds related to a system being monitored by the National Hurricane Center forced a 24-hour delay.
“Darn weather. See you tomorrow. Going to need everyone to focus on those calm, clear thoughts even harder,” said ULA CEO Tony Bruno on Twitter.
Sunday’s launch window opens at 9:14 a.m. but national security issues limit more details about the attempt. Live coverage of the launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 41 will be streamed on ulalaunch.com.
The weather forecast from the 45th Space Wing states ground winds and cumulus clouds will still be the primary concern for a Sunday attempt, with a 30% chance of violating launch conditions. If pushed to Monday, the forecast calls for only a 10% chance for bad weather.
The delay means a planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9, originally scheduled for Sunday, will now bump to Monday at 3:32 a.m. because of U.S. military missions taking priority. That mission is slated to carry another 60 of the company’s Starlink satellites from launch complex 40, the eighth planned Starlink launch for the company.
Go For Launch – Space News Newsletter
Fix your telescope on all space-related news, from rocket launches to space-industry advancements.
Saturday’s attempt saw ULA fuel up the 761,457-pound rocket in its effort to return the uncrewed X-37B for another long-term mission. Designed by Boeing to fly in low-Earth orbit, this is the vehicle’s sixth mission that last launched from Cape Canaveral in 2017.
One of at least two X-37B vehicles returned from orbit on its fifth mission in late 2019, landing at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility after spending more than two years in space. All but one of the six missions were launched by ULA since its first in 2010 with SpaceX ferrying it to space the last time around. The five previous missions have seen the vehicle in orbit for 2,865 days.
The Department of Defense uses the vehicle to test technologies for long-duration missions and bring them safely back to Earth. The latest mission will host more experiments than any previous by using for the first time a service module attached to the rear of the spaceplane.
Some announced missions include the FalconSat-8, a small educational satellite developed by U.S. Air Force Academy with five experiments on board; two NASA experiments to study radiation and other space effects on various materials and on seeds to grow food; and a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory experiment that seeks to transform solar power into radio frequency microwave energy that can be transmitted to the ground.
The vehicle remains an Air Force asset, but the newly designated Space Force is responsible for its launch, life in orbit and landing.
“The X-37B team continues to exemplify the kind of lean, agile and forward-leaning technology development we need as a nation in the space domain,” said U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond. “Each launch represents a significant milestone and advancement in terms of how we build, test, and deploy space capabilities in a rapid and responsive manner.”