Science

Oxygen Uncertainties May Have Caused SpaceX Launch Delay

For a second consecutive day yesterday, Elon Musk‘s SpaceX has been forced to delay the SES-9 mission launch with warm oxygen potentially being responsible for scrapping the mission.

Oxygen Uncertainties May Have Caused SpaceX Launch Delay

Vertical landing will be attempted following the launch of the SES-9 satellite

The SpaceX landing attempts are not like watching NASCAR, where best I can tell the only reason has to be to watch a crash. Otherwise, it’s just rednecks turning left, in my humble opinion. Conversely, I want to see SpaceX succeed; vertically landing a rocket booster is a lot of fun to watch and while I’ve seen one successful landing, the two failed landings on SpaceX’s drone ships were, while spectacular in their fireballs, so close.

Rolling seas and a failure for it’s “grappling cables” to function caused the two heartbreaking failures.

But yesterday’s delay is hardly a failure, simply an understanding that the oxygen is too warm to guarantee success. And success is important when carry a multi-million dollar satellite into orbit for client SES. While that is of prime importance getting the “largest satellite dedicated to serving the Asia-Pacific region,” into orbit is the mission according to SpaceX, but a proper landing would make it a dual success.

SpaceX launch delayed mere minutes before liftoff

A day after scrapping Wednesday’s planned launch, Thursday’s was called off just two minutes before launch. While the idea of landing a rocket vertically is innovative and key to reusing rockets going forward, Musk is also exploring new rocket fuels as he explained in December when speaking to the American Geophysical Union:

One of the things we’re doing for the first time, the first time I think anyone’s done it, is deeply cryogenic propellant … We’re sub-cooling the propellant, particularly the liquid oxygen, close to its freezing point, which increases the density quite significantly.

Warm oxygen levels in this approach to maximize the fuel’s density may have been responsible for the delay that occurred on Thursday.

“Right now, preliminary [indications are] that we were still evaluating the liquid oxygen propellant load, looking at how much time we had left in the count to finish loading the liquid oxygen. And at that time, the launch team decided we would need to halt the countdown,” said SpaceX manager John Insprucker on the live stream earmarked to broadcast the launch.

Wednesday’s launch was delayed to cool the oxygen further, something that doesn’t seem to have happened sufficiently to go ahead with the launch.

While the satellite is crucial to SES to expand access to SD and HD television to parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, and India. It’s also key to increase internet access to the same countries but not so crucial that SES needs to see an explosion before its satellite reaches orbit.

Whether to mask prior blemishes, two failed sea landings following a successful landing in Florida, or simply because this mission is unique in the higher orbit needed to launch the satellite, Tesla doesn’t expect a successful landing but will certainly try. It would effectively be a “cherry on top” if it was successfully landed.

“Given this mission’s unique GTO profile, a successful landing is not expected,” the SpaceX mission overview states.

Regardless of the success of the landing, SpaceX remains innovative and will certainly learn something from even a failed landing when the mission is finally deemed a go.

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