SpaceX and NASA launch delayed due to Florida storms

A backup launch date on May 30 will provide another chance to send astronauts to the International Space Station.

Photograph by David J. Phillip, AP Photos
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Dark clouds hang over the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 27, 2020. The flight was scrubbed due to weather.

Photograph by David J. Phillip, AP Photos

A SpaceX launch that was set to carry astronauts to the International Space Station has been scrubbed due to inclement weather along the Atlantic coast of Florida. The Demo-2 mission will now attempt to lift off at 3:22 p.m. ET on May 30. NASA has additional backup launch times planned for May 31 and tentatively June 2 and June 3.

Weather conditions for the Demo-2 mission need to be clear out over the Atlantic Ocean at dozens of possible abort locations in the flight path. The Crew Dragon spacecraft has eight SuperDraco thrusters that can launch the capsule away from a malfunctioning rocket in an emergency. But lightning, storm clouds, and tropical storm Bertha to the north of Cape Canaveral forced NASA and SpaceX to call off today’s launch attempt roughly 20 minutes ahead of the planned launch time.

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Hours before launch, sunny skies greeted NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken, as they departed the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to board the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. A few hours later the flight was scrubbed due to bad weather.

The SpaceX control center said they were “not going to quite make it on this,” as the company and NASA decided to call off the day's launch. “Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today,” SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor announced during NASA’s live broadcast.

When it does lift off, the mission is slated to be the first time astronauts will head to orbit from the United States since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. Launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, also making it the first time that a U.S. company will launch humans on a spacecraft and rocket of its own design.

The International Space Station orbits Earth about once every 90 minutes, so the Crew Dragon has to lift off the pad in Florida at an exact time to rendezvous with the space station. The NASA astronauts will dock the spacecraft with the ISS about 19 hours after liftoff, depending on the day of the launch. Behnken and Hurley will stay on the space station for between one and four months, helping the three astronauts already on board with their roster of scientific experiments and station maintenance, before returning to Earth in the Crew Dragon and splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean. Both astronauts are former military test pilots who flew on two space shuttle missions apiece between 2008 and 2011.

“It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand-new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend here,” Behnken said recently at a press conference with Hurley.

Private contractors have built rockets and spacecraft for NASA throughout the space agency’s history. But any customer can purchase a launch on a Falcon 9 rocket, which SpaceX has designed to be at least partially reusable, reducing the cost to fly. The largest part of the rocket, known as the first stage, is able to return to Earth under its own power, landing vertically on a ground pad or on a barge off the Florida coast.

In March 2017, the company reused a first stage booster that had previously flown to space to deliver a communications satellite to orbit—a milestone in aerospace history. Earlier this year, SpaceX’s latest batch of Starlink satellites launched on the fifth reflight of the same booster, although one of the nine engines on the first stage cut out during the rocket’s ascent, and the company was not able to land the booster on a barge in the Atlantic.

The Crew Dragon that will fly on the Demo-2 mission is the company’s first spacecraft designed to carry humans, launching on a brand-new Falcon 9 first stage that will attempt to land at sea after separating from the astronauts. If this launch is successful, it will represent the first step toward private citizens having an opportunity to fly to orbit on this vehicle, which SpaceX hopes to accomplish in the next few years.

“This really is the next major step in commercializing low-Earth orbit and having a really vital low-Earth orbit economy in which NASA is one of many customers,” Kirk Shireman, NASA’s ISS program manager, told National Geographic. “This launch is our next step toward increasing American, and really human, presence on board the laboratory.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the newest launch schedule.