SpaceX indefinitely delays second Falcon 9 launch in two weeks

SpaceX has postponed a Falcon 9 launch indefinitely after identifying significant problems with the rocket less than a day before launch for the second time in less than two weeks.

The unfortunate incident involving the Japanese start-up ispace also marks the sixth occasion in less than two months that SpaceX has postponed or cancelled a Falcon 9 launch less than 24 hours before launch for unidentified technical issues.

After a year of record-breaking performance, during which SpaceX has successfully completed 60 orbital launches with only a small number of last-minute technical delays, the streak of delays is unusual.

The frequency of last-minute delays and Falcon 9 launch aborts has sharply increased lately, possibly pointing to a single issue or alteration that is at least partially to blame for the pattern.

Eight delays occurred in two months as a result of the streak, which started in early October and extended until the end of November. The delays’ effects ranged from minutes to days or even weeks.

SpaceX’s primary justification for all but one of these delays was the necessity for additional time for “data review” or “checkouts” of the rocket, its payload, or both.

It is feasible to track when SpaceX has indicated it was “stepping down” from a launch attempt or “currently targeting” a later launch date due to technical issues because the business frequently tweets about launch delays.

After officially scheduled a launch, SpaceX only disclosed three technical delays: one last-minute abort and two minor “extra checkouts” delays.

SpaceX reported at least 15 further delays of a similar nature between January 2020 and March 2021, which furthers the anomaly.

It is typically anticipated that as a capable company gains expertise with the operation of a complicated, new technology, the frequency of technical issues will decline (like a launch vehicle).

It appears that SpaceX was following that pattern, which saw a sharp decrease in technical launch aborts even as the frequency of Falcon 9 launches increased to record levels.

The frequency of technical delays, however, has increased dramatically over the past two months, going from almost nonexistent to higher than at any other time in recent SpaceX history.

It is impossible to determine whether the recent string of delays are connected by an unseen thread without context.

There are a variety of potential causes, including worker tiredness, management changes, policy changes, and problems in the manufacturing.

It’s even possible that the beginning, which seemed to come out of nowhere, was actually the result of a deliberate shift in risk attitude, such as increasing sensitivity to off-nominal signals that had previously been noticed but were sufficiently discounted to prevent launch delays.

SpaceX may have modified things too much or eliminated too many steps as part of its ongoing attempt to improve systems and procedures.

It’s also possible that the recent increase in delays is just a coincidence, although this is improbable.

It will be challenging for SpaceX to boost its launch frequency further if the trend holds if it wants to reach CEO Elon Musk’s declared objective of 100 flights in 2023.

Delays increase launch costs and interfere with client plans, thus a swift return to more efficient operations is encouraged.

The latest two unrelated launches that have been continuously delayed are the most worrying.

After a Falcon 9 static fire test on November 17, SpaceX reportedly detected issues with Starlink 2-4, which was initially slated to launch on November 18. A revised launch date has not yet been announced.

A second Falcon 9 flight, which was scheduled to be the Japanese startup ispace’s first attempt at a Moon landing, has been postponed by SpaceX indefinitely “following further inspections of the launch vehicle and data review.”

In the end, launch delays are a necessary component of space travel, and it is preferable to leave a rocket on the ground whenever there is any doubt regarding its preparedness for flight.

However, significant variations in the frequency of delays are still interesting, particularly since SpaceX normally does not provide an explanation for delays for missions that are not NASA.

In December, SpaceX has a number of additional Falcon 9 missions confirmed.

It is unclear how exactly the Starlink 2-4 and HAKUTO-R delays will affect those planned launches.

For instance, Starlink 4-37 was slated to launch from the same pad as HAKUTO-R as early as December 6th, but that date will move backward for each day HAKUTO-R is postponed.

HAKUTO-Falcon R’s 9 fairing recovery mission is being delayed by at least two or three days, according to a SpaceX ship that is supposed to be returning to port.

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