SpaceX has had a fantastic year with a number of rockets being landed safely after accomplishing their mission and plans to relaunch one of those rockets play heavy in the company’s plans for the remainder of the year. However, the company has other plans, and that includes a launch on Saturday that is looking doubtful owing to weather.

SpaceX, Mars
Image source: SpaceX – Flickr

Tropical Depression Nine is Now Hermine

When most of woke this morning, Tropical Depression Nine was planning on dumping a fair bit of rain on the Sunshine State as it neared the coast with the weekend approaching. Tropical Depression Nine was already threatening SpaceX’s early Saturday morning launch, but Tropical Storm Hermine and her subsequent strengthening leaves that launch further in doubt.

“All eyes remain fixed on Tropical Depression Nine as it strengthens slowly in the Gulf of Mexico,” read the official forecast Wednesday morning by the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron. But now we have a she rather than a number and one can only assume that the planned launch of a communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is becoming less and less likely.

Earlier in the day, the forecast suggested that there was a 40% chance of favorable conditions for the launch window that will last two hours beginning at 3 AM local time on Saturday morning.

While conditions look better on Sunday, it’s difficult to see SpaceX taking the chance especially given the fact that the company wants to land the rocket on its drone ship following the delivery of its payload.

“The main weather concern for launch early Saturday morning is liftoff winds, if the storm is slower than forecast, and thick clouds associated with moisture trailing into the storm,” said the forecast.

The mission is to get the Israeli company Spacecom’s Amos-6 communications satellite into an orbit about 22,000 miles above the equator.

The Air Force has a busy week ahead of it, and Musk would surely like to stay on target with the weekend’s launch (weather permitting).

On Thursday next week, United Launch Alliance hopes to launch an Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s $800 million OSIRIS-REx. That seven-year mission hopes to see a 3 to 5-second touchdown on an asteroid for sampling and to see that 50 to 300-gram sample returned to Earth in 2023.

SpaceX’s reusable rocket plans

While SpaceX would love to see this weekend’s launch successful, the whole company’s business model is based on reusable rockets and why the company insists on attempting to land them after use.

Yesterday saw Luxembourg-based SES announce a deal with SpaceX to be the first company to have a satellite launched on a “lightly used” or “flight proven” Falcon 9 booster.

“We believe reusable rockets will open up a new era of spaceflight, and make access to space more efficient in terms of cost and manifest management,” said Martin Halliwell, chief technology officer for SES in making the announcement on Tuesday. The company already has well over 50 satellites orbiting the Earth.

The booster in question was not the first successfully landed on land last year but one recovered from a drone ship in the Atlantic in April.

SES has been a big SpaceX fan and loyal customer for some time and Elon Musk quickly pointed this out with a tweet yesterday.

“Thanks for the longstanding faith in SpaceX,” he said on Twitter. “We very much look forward to doing this milestone flight with you.”

This faith comes despite the fact that an SES rocket exploded in SpaceX’s only failed launch.

SpaceX is going to have to reuse a rocket multiple times, but this is certainly a start.

“It’s going to be a really high-profile, historic event,” said Ryan Kobrick, assistant professor of Commercial Space Operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. “The key is going to be what are the actual cost savings, and how many years, or how many flights, will it take for them to make it pay off.”

Musk certainly agrees and has long maintained that space flight should be no different than the airline industry. Granted reusable rockets are a bit more complicated and won’t be able to be turned around overnight, but that it is the goal at the end of the day.

“In order for us to really open up access to space, we’ve got to achieve full and rapid reusability,” said Musk after the drone ship landing in April.  “This will take us a few years to make that smooth and make it efficient, but I think it’s proven that it can work.”