SpaceX tries 3rd time to launch observatory, land rocket
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) SpaceX counted on better weather Wednesday as it geared up for the third time to launch an observatory and land the leftover rocket at sea.
The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket holds the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a satellite dreamed up by former Vice President Al Gore 17 years ago. Gore planned to return again for the sunset send-off.
High wind nixed Tuesday's try, and radar trouble interfered Sunday. NASA said calmer wind was expected for Wednesday's planned 6:03 p.m. launch, with a 90 percent overall chance of favorable conditions.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pulled the sacked satellite out of storage nearly a decade ago, and retooled it to monitor solar outbursts while providing continuous pictures of the full, sunlit side of Earth.
The spacecraft will travel 1 million miles, four times farther than the moon, to the so-called Lagrange point, a gravity-neutral position in direct line with the sun. There, it will provide advance warnings of incoming geomagnetic storms that could disrupt power and communications on Earth.
Less than 10 minutes after liftoff, the first-stage booster, once free, was supposed to attempt to land vertically on a platform floating off Florida's coast.
Last month's test the first of its kind ended with the booster slamming into the platform and collapsing in flames. The guidance fins simply ran out of hydraulic fluid.
SpaceX's billionaire chief Elon Musk was pleased the booster even made it to the platform last time. The upcoming test was expected to be harder, with the 14-story booster descending faster from 80 miles up.
Musk wants to start retrieving and reusing his rockets to save time and money. His California-based company just signed a lease with the Air Force for an old launch pad that will be converted into a landing pad.
If unlucky again Wednesday, SpaceX would have to wait until Feb. 20 to launch because of interference to the observatory's flight path from the moon's gravity.