Next Falcon 9 launch postponed

SpaceX has postponed a launch previously scheduled for Saturday of six commercial communications satellites because of an unspecified problem during an attempted static fire test, delaying the launch until late this month.

“A static fire test in advance of SpaceX’s ORBCOMM OG2 Mission 1 was scrubbed this morning during fueling,” the company said in a brief statement emailed (after some delay) Friday afternoon. “Both the Falcon 9 rocket and ORBCOMM satellites are in good condition but as a result of schedule constraints, [the] launch will be postponed past this weekend with the next opportunity most likely in late May.”

SpaceX had planned to launch the Falcon 9 v1.1 Saturday at 9:47 am EDT (1347 GMT), placing the six ORBCOMM Generation 2 (OG2) satellites into low Earth orbit. The satellites are part of a system of 17 such satellites that will replace the existing constellation used by satellite communications company ORBCOMM to provide data services around the globe. The OG2 satellites, built by Sierra Nevada Corporation, weigh 170 kilograms each and provide higher communications throughput compared to the original ORBCOMM satellites. The OG2 satellites also carry Automatic Identification System (AIS) payloads, a means of tracking ships.

Had Saturday’s launch gone off as planned, it would have been the fastest turnaround between Falcon 9 launches to date for SpaceX, coming just 22 days after it launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft for NASA. While SpaceX hasn’t disclosed details about the delay, part of a slip to late May would be due to range conflicts at Cape Canaveral: a Delta IV rocket is scheduled to launch a GPS satellite on May 15, while an Atlas V will launch a classified satellite on May 22. In any event, the delay further constrains SpaceX’s previously announced plans to perform ten launches this year, as this mission will be only the third Falcon 9 launch of 2014. The company will need some turnarounds between launches as fast as what was originally planned—and some luck, too—to achieve that goal now.

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