SpaceX, Blue Origin postpone rocket launches within minutes of each other

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ready for launch in Texas, backed by a starry sky.


Blue Origin

Instead of launching within minutes of each other as planned Tuesday, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX wound up scrubbing their missions for the day within the same hour.

The launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a US Air Force GPS satellite, from Cape Canaveral in Florida was halted just minutes before blast-off when its on-board flight computer encountered an error. 

Up-and-coming competitor Blue Origin had been scheduled to send its New Shepard rocket to space carrying several NASA-backed experiments from west Texas at about the same time. But about a half-hour before launch, Blue Origin announced it had canceled the launch for the day “due to a ground infrastructure issue.”

SpaceX has reset the Falcon 9 launch for 9:07 a.m. ET on Wednesday. Blue Origin is also considering a launch attempt Wednesday if weather cooperates. 

It’s a hiccup in the billionaires’ battle for commercial space supremacy.

The SpaceX mission involves a brand-new Block 5 Falcon 9 booster toting GPS III SV01, a super powerful Global Positioning System satellite for the US Air Force. It also goes by the nickname “Vespucci.”

There won’t be a dramatic landing following the launch, as there are no plans to recover the rocket, which will fall into the Atlantic Ocean. The most recent SpaceX landing attempt at Cape Canaveral suffered a malfunction, and the Falcon 9 booster wound up in the water just off-shore, where it was recovered. 

The plan to expend the rocket Tuesday has been in the works for a while and is not related to the recent landing mishap.

All indications are that Blue Origin will bring its New Shepard vehicle back to Earth for a landing after launch to recover all the data collected (and, of course, the rocket itself). The experiments on board will study things like the vibrations experienced during spaceflight, a new way to measure fuel levels in microgravity and how to better work with scientific samples in space. 

Both launches should be easy to watch online. SpaceX typically begins streaming via its YouTube channel about 15 minutes before launch, and Blue Origin will also set up a live feed via its website.

Originally published Dec. 17 at 11:33 a.m. PT. 
Updated Dec. 18 at 7:18 a.m. PT: Added information about the launch delays.


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