Spaceflight Insider

Third time no charm for SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 full thrust at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 photo credit Jason Rhian SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX attempted to launch its Falcon 9 rocket this evening, Feb. 28, however an automatic abort was triggered due to a “low thrust” alarm moments after the nine Merlin engines began firing. The company said the booster and rocket are safe and healthy.

The NewSpace firm has not said when their next launch attempt will be, but a statement from the 45th Space Wing—which controls the Eastern Range—said a new launch date will be no earlier than 48 hours from Feb. 28.

Third Attempt

The weather was nearly perfect for SpaceX’s third launch attempt. The only concern was upper level winds. Forecasters called for a 95 percent chance of acceptable conditions at liftoff time. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

The first attempt of the night was scheduled to take place at 6:46 p.m. EST (23:46 GMT). The weather was nearly perfect, with the only concerns being high upper level winds. Unfortunately, at T-minus 1 minute and 33 seconds, a hold was called due to a “fouled range.”

“[The Air Force] has placed launch on hold due to a boat entering the edge of the keep out zone. Scrambling [helicopters] to get them to move,” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, tweeted.

Since the launch window was about an hour and a half long,  a new liftoff time was soon set for 7:21 p.m. EST (00:21 GMT) and the countdown recycled to the 10-minute, 40-second point.

This time, it seemed nothing would stop the launch. The engines ignited, as planned, three seconds before the scheduled launch time, but there was a sputter of light and flame before the on-board computer called an abort. SpaceX soon announced a scrub for the day at 7:34 p.m. EST (00:34 GMT).

Soon after, Musk tweeted that the abort was triggered due to a “low thrust” alarm. He said it was because of rising oxygen temperatures caused from the earlier hold for the boat in the range, as well as a helium bubble.

This was the third time that SpaceX had tried to send the vehicle skyward. The first attempt was on Feb. 24, with the second taking place on Feb. 25. Both of those attempts were scrubbed due to issues relating to managing the temperature of the colder-than-normal liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket grade kerosene (RP-1) that the two-stage rocket uses for fuel.

This version of the Falcon 9, dubbed the “Full Thrust,” utilizes LOX and RP-1 that are chilled nearly to their freezing points, densifying them. This allows for more fuel to fit inside the rocket’s tanks, increasing its performance—something needed to both send a payload to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) – and recover the rockets’ first stage downrange.

When the Falcon 9 does launch, the payload, the SES-9 satellite, will be delivered to GTO. SES-9 will be the largest satellite supporting the Asia-Pacific region. The spacecraft has some 81 high-powered Ku-band transponder equivalents, which will be used to provide high-speed broadband, television, and other services to an array of customers in more than 20 countries.


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

Reader Comments

Seems the ultra-cold LOX and kerosene may have been a bad idea.

Loquacious Aardvark

What are you? Some NASA wonk who wants to see Space X go down?

Better a 48, or even 72 hour hold, rather than a 6 month hold due to another incident. This is safe, cautious operations, which seems like a good idea if they’re planning to use the F9 for manned flights. Go SpaceX!

Agreed. They are definitely learning how to operate this new rocket. I suspect there is a lot of good data they gather every time they attempt to launch and then abort. Go SpaceX!

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