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SpaceX aborts rocket launch with just seconds to go

Intelsat 35e Launch Webcast
SpaceX’s attempt at a record-breaking third mission in nine days had to abort just seconds from lift-off in the evening of Sunday, July 2. At this stage, the specific reason for calling off the launch isn’t clear, or at least hasn’t been made public yet.

Sunday’s mission was due to put the Intelsat 35e communications satellite into orbit.

The countdown at the Florida launch site proceeded smoothly until nine seconds from lift-off. The first sign that something was wrong came when the clock inexplicably stopped.

A short while later, SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker, who was presenting live coverage of the mission on YouTube, resumed commentary in his usual unflappable style.

“We were inside T-minus 10 seconds and we’ve had an abort in the countdown sequence,” Insprucker told the online audience. “We’re waiting to hear more information.”

Having assessed the situation, the team, which only had a 59-minute launch window on Sunday evening, decided to postpone the attempt.

A SpaceX tweet confirmed it was “standing down for today,” adding that the rocket and payload had suffered no damage.

Unless a particularly serious issue comes to the fore, Sunday’s abort appears to be a hitch rather than a major setback. It’s certainly not on par with the calamity SpaceX suffered back in September 2016 when one of its rockets exploded on the launchpad during a fueling operation.

According to the private space company, the next launch opportunity is at pretty much the exact same time on Monday evening, though of course it will only happen if the firm can identify and fix the issue that caused Sunday’s abort.

On this occasion, the large amount of energy required to deliver the 6-ton Intelsat 35e into geostationary orbit, which is considerably higher than the Falcon 9’s usual low-Earth orbit missions, means the rocket won’t have enough fuel to attempt one of its spectacular landings. SpaceX has so far nailed 13 rocket landings — including two individual rockets that have launched and landed on two occasions — demonstrating the current system’s reusability for the vast majority of its missions.

Speaking of reusability, SpaceX is about to welcome back its first reused Dragon capsule, which has spent the last month at the International Space Station after taking supplies there in June. The capsule is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Monday morning. Fingers crossed it goes smoothly.

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