SpaceX aborted the launch of 60 new Starlink satellites at the last second today (March 15) due to an engine power issue with the mission’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s onboard computer triggered an abort just before a scheduled 9:22 a.m. EDT (1322 GMT) liftoff after detecting an issue with one of its nine Merlin 1D engines.
The Falcon 9 first stage for this launch is a veteran SpaceX booster. The rocket has launched four flights for SpaceX. Its fifth launch for the Starlink mission would make it SpaceX’s first to fly five times.
The abort, coupled with an instantaneous launch window, meant that SpaceX engineers would not have time to try again today. The company is working with the U.S. Air Force and the Eastern Range to determine the next available launch date.
“We had a condition regarding engine power that caused us to abort today’s launch,” Michael Andrews, a SpaceX supply chain manager, said during launch commentary. “Prior to that the countdown was proceeding normally.”
“Keep in mind, the purpose of the countdown is to help us catch potential issues prior to flight,” Andrews added.
The Falcon 9 is equipped with safety features that can trigger an on pad abort like we saw today, and can even abort during flight if it detects an anomaly.
“There are a thousand ways a launch can go wrong, but only one way the launch can go right,” Andrews said. “Given that, we are overly cautious on the ground, and if the team sees anything that looks even slightly off, we’ll stop the countdown.”
By all indications, the rocket was ready to go and cleared for flight. However, that doesn’t mean that issues cannot creep up on the day of launch. If today’s attempt featured a longer launch window, SpaceX engineers may have been able to troubleshoot the issue and recycle the countdown.
But SpaceX will have to wait for a new launch date and try again. In the meantime, engineers will continue to review the data and prepare the rocket for its next launch attempt.