Key SpaceX Launches Back on Track After Unexplained Delays

SpaceX is ready to launch a historic lunar lander and a batch of its competitor's satellites, missions that had been put on hold due to unspecified issues.

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivering the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivering the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.
Photo: SpaceX

Better late than never, but it appears that SpaceX is set to launch a batch of OneWeb internet satellites to Earth orbit and the private Japanese Hakuto-R mission to the Moon, along with a NASA water-hunting probe. 

The launch of 40 OneWeb satellites was originally supposed to happen on Tuesday, but has now been rescheduled for Thursday at 5:27 p.m. ET, while Japan’s Hakuto-R’s lunar lander mission, which was originally scheduled to launch on November 30, is now poised to liftoff on Sunday, December 11, at 2:38 a.m. ET.

Elon Musk’s company has flown its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket more than 50 times this year alone, but since October, Falcon 9 has suffered eight delays, according to Teslarati. SpaceX had to stand down from launching a new batch of Starlink satellites on November 18 to “take a closer look at data from static fire,” the company wrote on Twitter, in reference to a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket.

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But the two most recent delays affected payloads not belonging to the private space company. After canceling a hefty contract with Russia’s space agency, British company OneWeb resorted to its rival SpaceX to launch 40 of its internet satellites. Both SpaceX and OneWeb are building internet satellite constellations in low Earth orbit to deliver connectivity across the world, with SpaceX way ahead of its competition.

OneWeb, with limited options for launch providers, signed contracts with SpaceX and India’s space agency to collectively perform the six remaining launches of its first-generation satellites. The first of these launches, with the help of the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) GSLV Mark III rocket, took place in October.

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OneWeb’s second planned launch was scheduled to take off on Tuesday, December 6, but was pushed back toallow for additional pre-launch checks,” the company wrote on Twitter.

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Similarly, SpaceX had to postpone the launch of the private Japanese mission to “allow for additional pre-flight checkouts.” The launch was originally scheduled for November 30, then pushed to December 1, and later postponed indefinitely without providing a specific reason, SpaceX announced on Twitter.

On Wednesday, SpaceX tweeted: “Teams completed additional vehicle inspections and reviews; rocket and payload are looking good for launch of the ispace_inc HAKUTO-R mission 1.” It’s still not clear what the issue was with the rocket and why additional inspections were necessary.

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Tokyo’s ispace will attempt to deploy Hakuto-R’s Mission 1 (M1) lander to the lunar surface, which would make it the first private mission to successfully land on the Moon. The Hakuto-R M1 lander will also attempt to deliver its own payloads to the Moon, including the 22-pound (10-kilogram) Rashid rover built by the United Arab Emirates and a transformable ball-like robot, named SORA-Q, developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the TOMY toy company.

The same launch is also poised to deliver NASA’s Lunar Flashlight, a probe that’s designed to search for water ice in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon from a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO).

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SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had previously stated that he’s aiming for a record-breaking 60 launches of the Falcon 9 rocket this year, but we’ll have to see if the hardest working rocket in the game can pull it off.

More: SpaceX Cargo Capsule Arrives at ISS With Tomato Seeds, Moon Med Kit, and More