On February 28, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX made its third attempt in its campaign to launch the SES9 communication satellite which will provide service to Indonesia and surrounding areas in Asia. The first attempt was hampered by weather and to be blunt, nothing can be done about that. You simply wait for another day when the weather is in your favor. Next attempt the next day was marred due to unfamiliarity with a new type of liquid oxygen fuel and miscalculating the time needed to get the Falcon 9 fueled in time to meet the appointed launch time. To the casual observer, it seemed like a debacle .
After a 24 hour delay after launch controllers worked the fuel issue, a third attempt to get SES9 into orbit was made last evening, All systems were go, the fueling issue had been solved and proper fuel levels had been reached. Weather was a go, SES – 9 was go, and the Falcon 9 seemed ready to fly.
Then a boat of some sort decided to sail into the “keep out” zone which violated the range safety rules and resulted in a HOLD call at a minute and thirty three seconds from the SpaceX launch team. I was thrown for a few moments because at the time it was unclear why we were holding and as I was letting out an audible “wtf not again!” as reports of the boat holding the launch came through.
After what seemed like an eternity, the launch attempt resumed, and the countdown recycled with a little over eleven minutes placed on the countdown clock. This gave enough time for the USCG to get the ship out of the area. With the range now green this seemed to be fly time for SES9. This was it, it looked like it was going to happen as the countdown ticked to 00:00 and then nothing. The computers triggered a shut down which resulted in an abort call shortly after. Later, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, put out a tweet stating:
Which seemed to place the onus on the wayward boat.
Well, it looks like third time is not a charm. As of this writing, SpaceX has not announced the new flight data for the 4th attempt in the campaign. Some press reports have said an announcement may not come until Tuesday.
Reflecting back on the audio portion of the countdown network, being broadcast over the web, the launch team sounded like they needed a break. After listening to the audio again they almost sounded confused and frazzled. I received a text from a friend of mine who stated it sounded like “amateur hour” and I sadly had to agree.
It wasn’t just me either, others were making the same observation last night and it makes me wonder what exactly is going on over at Space X. Are they working their people a little too hard? SpaceX isn’t NASA, they are a private company unencumbered by stock holders. They are well within their rights to run their company in any way they wish to. However, tired people are going to make mistakes, and spaceflight does not react well to human fallibility.
Rachelle Williams and Gene Mikulka
@AstroAnarchy and @genejm29