NROL-44 Scrubs, SpaceX Set for Two Launches Sunday

Falcon 9 launch off SLC-40. Photo: Jeff Seibert / AmericaSpace

United Launch Alliance scrubbed their latest launch attempt with NROL-44 for a second time overnight, and will now stand down for the next week, giving SpaceX the eastern range to launch their next batch of Starlinks from Kennedy Space Center LC-39A at 10:12 a.m. EDT.

Another mission, SAOCOM-1B, is ready to launch too from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40, but with NROL-44 still on the ground there are questions as to whether or not a rocket off SLC-40 going over the Delta IV Heavy is something the National Reconnaissance Office or 45th Space Wing would approve.

The rockets for Starlink and SAOCOM 1B. Photos: SpaceX

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Prior to the Saturday scrub of NROL-44, SpaceX had tweeted about launching both missions on Sunday.

Both rockets are veterans too, with several missions already flown. The Falcon 9 rocket for the next Starlink launch, core B1060, last flew to launch the third Global Positioning System (GPS) Block III navigation and timing satellite for the U.S. Space Force on 30 June. The booster for SAOCOM-1B, Falcon 9 core B1059, will be making its fourth flight, having previously lofted the most recent pair of Dragon cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2019 and March 2020, followed by a batch of Starlink low-orbiting internet communications satellites on 13 June.

As previously described by AmericaSpace, this flight carries Argentina’s long-delayed SAOCOM-1B satellite, which will join its twin, the 2018-launched SAOCOM-1A, in conducting L-band radar-imaging of Earth. Working together in near-polar orbit, the two satellites will contribute to a broad range of applications, including relief from natural disasters, soil-moisture mapping, terrain-modeling and volcanology.

Should both fly within less than 48 hours of each other, it would establish a new record for SpaceX between any two of its launches. Two previous pairs of missions, in June 2017 and December 2018, came close, with roughly 48 hours between each flight, although in both cases the launches occurred from the East and West Coasts of the United States. This week’s double-header of Falcon 9s (to say nothing of the mammoth Falcon Heavy) will all originate from the Space Coast.

Written by Mike Killian and Ben Evans

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