SpaceX Knocks Out 2 Space Coast Launches as ULA Delays Final Delta IV Heavy

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Saturday, March 23, 2024. The rocket is carrying 23 Starlink satellites. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP)

ORLANDO, Fla. (Orlando Sentinel/TNS) — A retry for the final launch ever of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, the last of the Delta family of rockets, remained up in the air over the weekend, but in the meantime, SpaceX sent up a pair of rockets from the Space Coast on Saturday.

First up from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A was the Eutelsat-36X mission flying a communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit lifting off at 5:52 p.m. The first-stage booster flew for the 12th time with landing on the Just Read the Instructions droneship downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.

Next up was a Falcon 9 on the Starlink 6-45 mission carrying 23 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 at 9:30 p.m. The first-stage booster flew for the 18th time and made another recovery landing on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas in the Atlantic.

This marked the 259th and 260th reflights of first-stage boosters on the seven-year anniversary of SpaceX’s first booster reuse.

The duo became the 21st and 22nd launches from the Space Coast in 2024, with all but one flown by SpaceX. SpaceX has another Starlink launch from California slated for late Saturday as well. If it launches, it will mark 32 Falcon 9 launches for SpaceX from its Florida and California pads so far this year.

Their flight comes after ULA’s scrub of the Delta IV Heavy flight with just under four minutes on the countdown clock this past Thursday at Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37. At issue was a pump on the gaseous nitrogen pipeline from the shared ground systems supplying the Space Force station with the inert gas that is needed for safe launch operations.

“The team continues to troubleshoot the pipeline and more time is needed to instill confidence in the system. We will continue to work with our customer to confirm our next launch attempt and a new launch date will be provided upon resolution,” ULA posted late Thursday, and has not updated its status since.

Now the rocket on the NROL-70 mission carrying a classified satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office awaits confirmation from ULA on when they will attempt a retry.

The first launch of a Delta class of rockets came more than 63 years ago and this will be its 389th launch attempt among all its versions.

Delta IV Heavy is making its 16th flight having been introduced in 2004. The medium-lift version of the Delta IV last flew in 2019 while the smaller, older Delta II rocket retired in 2018.

The Delta family of rockets along with Atlas V rockets are being replaced by ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur, which made it maiden launch this past January.

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