Falcon 9 ZUMA launch on indefinite hold

posted by Jim Banke - 

UPDATE FOR FRIDAY, NOV 17 at Noon EST: It would appear that SpaceX is officially off the Eastern Range for a launch attempt tonight.

The company announced last night they were preserving an option to fly tonight, but were standing down indefinitely to study a problem seen on a different Falcon 9 nose cone fairing so they can be sure the same problem isn't potentially an issue with the rocket now set to launch.

How this delay, with its unknown duration, will affect SpaceX's plans for the rest of the year in terms of which missions will be flown, when and from what launch pads all still seems unclear at the moment, at least publicly.,

Rather than lay out all the various options, each with their own variables, suffice it to say that the rest of the year may turn out to be quieter than we first hoped. The next non-SpaceX launch is currently targeted to go from the Cape on Jan. 18.

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UPDATE FOR THURSDAY, NOV. 16 at 2 p.m. EST: The Falcon 9 launch has been slipped yet another day to Friday, Nov. 17. The launch window extends from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. EST.

SpaceX has yet to say why the delay was necessary, but when they first bumped the launch to tonight, the reason was to give the team a little more time to look over things to ensure "mission assurance." This would seem to hint at a technical concern with the rocket or the secret payload.

The company recently, and explosively, lost a rocket engine during a test at their Texas facility. SpaceX hasn't said much about that accident, but it may have been more of a facilities issue than a problem with the engine itself. But, if the incident was the result of an engine problem, the launch team may be using this extra time to look at all their data and make sure this rocket is safe to fly.

The booster that sits at pad 39A did go through the usual pre-launch hot fire of its engines while at the pad. That test took place on Saturday, and -- again, this is just speculating -- it's possible the team saw something during the test that they want extra time to think about.

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SpaceX has delayed their next launch by one day. Liftoff of their Falcon 9 is still expected between 8 and 10 p.m. EST.  All that is known about the flight is the payload is called Zuma, and it's a launch contracted by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Government.

Also, the first stage of the rocket is expected to return for a landing attempt at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station a little less than nine minutes after launch.

--- Jim Banke

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