A wayward cruise ship has singlehandedly delayed two SpaceX launches and forced schedule changes that could see three Falcon 9 rockets lift off just a handful of days apart.
Originally scheduled to launch six days apart on January 27th, January 28th, and February 2nd, a string of mostly weather-related delays has pushed SpaceX’s launch of the Italian CSG-2 radar satellite – the first of the series – to January 28th, 29th, 30th, and now the 31st. Weather for the fifth launch attempt looks optimal, so barring another stroke of terrible maritime luck, CSG-2 will once again attempt to lift off at 6:11 pm EST (23:11 UTC) on Monday, January 31st.
If all goes to plan, CSG-2 will be SpaceX’s fourth launch of the month and year, leaving the company more or less on track to achieve a target of 52 launches – an average of one launch per week – in 2022. It will also be the seventh time SpaceX has launched four or more times in less than four weeks – the first instance of which occurred less than a year and a half ago.
According to SpaceX’s CSG-2 webcast host (also an engineer at the company), January 31st will be SpaceX’s last consecutive CSG-2 launch attempt if another issue arises. The company will apparently turn its full attention to the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) NROL-87 spy satellite no less than a day and a half before its scheduled 12:18 pm PST (20:18 UTC), Wednesday, February 2nd liftoff. If true, that means that a lone cruise ship will have ultimately delayed a commercial Falcon 9 launch by at least 24 hours and a separate Starlink Falcon 9 launch by at least three days.
Prior to that ship’s unwelcome appearance, Starlink 4-7 was scheduled to launch no earlier than (NET) 2pm EST (19:00 UTC) on Monday, January 31st. Now, unless SpaceX decides that it can afford to support three different Falcon 9 launch attempts – spread out across all three of its orbital launch pads – as few as ~41 hours apart, Starlink 4-7 will probably have to wait until February 3rd at the earliest. Obviously, three launches in ~65 hours would still be an extremely impressive achievement for SpaceX and the Falcon family. It would also be a new record, narrowly edging out the old record of three launches in ~69 hours set in December 2021. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that Starlink 4-7 could launch as early as 1:56 pm EST (18:56 UTC), February 1st, so there’s still a chance that SpaceX will launch three Falcon 9 rockets in less than 48 hours.
It’s clear that SpaceX is making significant progress in increasing its launch cadence capabilities and sustaining those increases. Nonetheless, the more SpaceX pushes that envelope, the more and more common similar knock-on delays and rare launch abort scenarios will become – just an inevitable consequence of any attempt to make orbital launches truly common and routine.
Tune in below around 5:55 pm EST (22:55 UTC), January 31st to watch Falcon 9’s fifth CSG-2 launch attempt live.