Will Mother Nature Smile or Frown on Friday’s Record-Breaking Pair of Space Coast Launches?

After two scrubbed launch attempts in two days, will tonight be the night for 2023’s second Falcon Heavy? Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Mother Nature looks unlikely to play ball for a pair of launch attempts out of the Space Coast on Friday evening, with particularly strong storms anticipated offshore tonight. A triple-barreled Falcon Heavy—already scrubbed two days in a row, thanks to continuing poor weather—is now set to rise from historic Pad 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) no earlier than 7:26 p.m. EDT Friday, but may be preceded at 5:12 p.m. EDT by a “single-stick” Falcon 9 from neighboring Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, to wrap up an impressive seven-flight month for SpaceX.

B1061 powers uphill on Thursday out of Vandenberg for April’s fifth SpaceX mission. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Following yesterday’s successful launch of a 13-times-used Falcon 9 into the fog at Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., hopes seemed favorable that the second Falcon Heavy of the year might fly during a 57-minute “window”, opening at 7:26 p.m. EDT Thursday. Laden with the first of three 13,000-pound (6,000-kilogram) ViaSat-3 ultra-high-capacity broadband satellites, flying for Carlsbad, Calif.-headquartered ViaSat, Inc., and co-manifested with a pair of smaller payloads for Indonesia’s Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN) and San Francisco, Calif.-based Astranis Corp., the mission is targeting almost direct insertion into Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), aiming for a drop-off point of the satellites just 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) shy of their intended orbital spot.

And that requires this to be the first Heavy to intentionally expend all three of its boosters: the brand-new B1068 center core and a pair of previously flown side-boosters, tail-numbered B1052 and B1053, which have already logged nine prior missions between them. Hopes of flying this mission on Wednesday evening were called off due to poor weather at the Cape, but the 45th Weather Squadron initially pointed to a possibility of better conditions—perhaps up to 60-percent-favorable—for a backup attempt on Thursday.

ViaSat-3 during pre-launch processing. Photo Credit: Scientific Imaging

That did not come to pass, with particularly strong storms offshore and an updated forecast of only 30-percent favorability for both Thursday and Friday evenings. As such, SpaceX initially aimed for the end of Thursday’s 57-minute window—at 8:26 p.m. EDT—before calling it a day and opting for a second back-to-back scrub.

As such, a game of rocket musical chairs may ensue, as another Falcon 9—B1078, last used to loft Dragon Endeavour and her Crew-6 team of astronauts and cosmonauts in early March—stands poised at the Cape’s storied SLC-40 to leapfrog the Heavy and loft the second of three planned batches of Boeing-built O3b mPOWER broadband satellites into a 5,000-mile-high (8,000-kilometer) Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). Its 88-minute window is set to open at 5:12 p.m. EDT, which, if both missions launch on time, should set a new record of only two hours and 17 minutes between a pair of flights, eclipsing the current four-hour record set last month.

B1078 turns night into day across the Space Coast in early March, as Dragon Endeavour and her crew take aim on the International Space Station (ISS). Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Sadly, that seems a dwindling possibility, with the weather forecast predicted to be only 30-percent-favorable both for Friday and Saturday. “Friday will be another active day, as an area of low pressure tracking across the Mid-South pulls a frontal boundary into Florida,” noted the 45th in an update late Thursday.

“The boundary will bring activity moving from west to east towards the Spaceport by midday and continuing through the afternoon,” it cautioned. “Most activity may be just south or offshore of the Spaceport…but given current uncertainty would expect at least lingering debris clouds and anvils through the window.” This active weather picture, disappointingly, is expected to continue into Saturday.

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