After two months of delays, SpaceX says it will launch six second-generation Orbcomm communications satellites July 14 atop a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida.
The launch of New Jersey-based Orbcomm's six OG2 satellites has been repeatedly delayed due to technical and weather-related setbacks, beginning with a Falcon 9 first-stage helium leak that pushed the initial May 10 launch date to early June.
In a June 22 statement, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company said it would postpone a launch attempt planned for that day until July 24 due to a technical issue that SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell later said involved a thrust vector control actuator on the Falcon 9's first stage. On June 23, the company said it would postpone the launch until the first week of July.
“We saw during some preflight checkouts on Sunday morning some issues with the thrust vector control actuator on the first stage,” Shotwell told The John Batchelor Show, a radio program that was co-hosted by David Livingston of The Space Show June 25. “It's likely something we could have flown through during flight, but what we wanted to do was basically just be super careful and we actually wanted to go in and check the second-stage actuator as well.”
Shotwell did not indicate whether the issue had been resolved, but said the company is now targeting mid-July for the launch.
“July 14 and 15, I think, are the dates we requested from the range,” she said, adding that the U.S. Air Force's eastern range had not confirmed the dates.
“The range does want to go on a two-week maintenance shutdown,” she said. “We couldn't guarantee that we'd be able to fly in the next few days or so so we said look, you shut down, you do your maintenance, we don't want to put that off, and in the meantime we'll obviously spend more time examining the rocket and doing everything we possibly can to make sure this flight is successful.”
After SpaceX fans and journalists publicly berated the company for failing to webcast a June 21 launch attempt that was scrubbed due to poor weather, Shotwell suggested the practice of live-streaming Falcon 9 launches would continue.
“I don't think we're changing our plan. We were moving away from the webcast format that we had before, to get to kind of a higher-tech feel,” she said. “We were just going to transition away. Saturday's launch, even though we obviously attempted it, the weather looked like we would not be able to fly Saturday. So we thought, of the one day we could take to transition, maybe we can take that time and transition on that Saturday.”
However, the day of the launch, SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin wrote in an email to spaceflightnow.com:
"We've actually been ready to move away from the webcasts for awhile. It takes a lot of resources but the main reason is these launches are becoming more routine and the full webcast isn't really appropriate anymore."
Just to be clear, Shanklin was referring to SpaceX's status as a new entrant to the global commercial launch market. But after just two commercial missions – the SES-8 communications satellite launched in December 2013, followed by Thaicom-6 for Bangkok-based Thaicom in January – SpaceX launches are anything but routine.
In addition, journalists at the Cape for the June 21 launch attempt reported that SpaceX media representatives were not available to answer questions regarding the June 21 launch attempt, and that U.S. Air Force officials with the 45th Space Wing handled media.
As a result, in response to a barrage of criticism that followed on social media, Shotwell said, “public opinion was pretty strong on that point. They like the webcast, or they certainly like us to live-stream.”
Nonetheless, while Shotwell said the company was prepared to live-stream the June 22 attempt – the one that was scrubbed owing to a balky thrust vector control actuator – she did not say whether SpaceX plans to webcast the July 14 launch.
“You know, it's always easy to jump to some nefarious plot for any circumstance that looks odd, but in this case it was simply we were moving away from that specific format anyhow,” she said.