SpaceX scrubs Falcon 9 launch to assess second stage issue

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday after an aborted countdown. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX scrubbed a Falcon 9 launch attempt Thursday to evaluate a “slightly high” pressure reading in the rocket’s upper stage liquid oxygen tank, and officials tentatively rescheduled the company’s final mission of the year for Friday morning.

A sensor reading on the Falcon 9’s upper stage triggered an “auto-abort” at T-minus 1 minute, 53 seconds, as SpaceX counted down to a planned liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center at 9:45 a.m. EST (1445 GMT) Thursday.

The Falcon 9 launch team reset the countdown clock to preserve the opportunity to try again to send the Falcon 9 rocket skyward before the end of Thursday’s three-hour launch window. In the end, officials decided to keep the rocket on the ground to allow more time to evaluate the potential problem on the upper stage.

A top secret payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government’s spy satellite agency, is mounted on top of the Falcon 9 rocket. The mission, designated NROL-108, will be SpaceX’s 26th and final Falcon 9 flight of 2020, exceeding the company’s previous record of 21 launches in a year in 2018.

Read our mission preview for details on the launch.

SpaceX’s patch for the NROL-108 mission. Credit: SpaceX

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, said engineers were assessing a “slightly high” pressure reading in the rocket’s upper stage liquid oxygen tank.

“Standing down for today to inspect rocket,” Musk tweeted. “Hopefully launching tomorrow.”

SpaceX lowered the Falcon 9 rocket horizontal at pad 39A Thursday evening, presumably to perform inspections on the second stage. The rocket will need to be raised vertical again overnight if SpaceX proceeds with a launch attempt Friday, when the mission’s three-hour window opens at 9 a.m. EsT (1400 GMT).

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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