Several outlets reported that SpaceX redirected its third U.S. military satellite GPS III to no earlier than (NET) 18:24 EDT (18:24 UTC), Thursday, November 5th.
Surprisingly, the launch of the National Intelligence Office of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) – albeit a different mission – was planned just two days before the next launch window of SpaceX’s GPS III SV04. In other words, the chances are high that SpaceX will get stuck in a cycle of delays if its competitor suffers additional delays at launch.
Fortunately, the ULA NROL-101 mission – scheduled to launch no earlier than 5:30 p.m. EDT (Tuesday 5:30 p.m.), Tuesday, Nov. 3 – will fly an Atlas V rocket. 5-6 launches per year over the last decade, several annual launches have come a long way in providing manpower, infrastructure and vehicle readiness, while Delta IV – partly responsible for the ULA’s NLA-44 chronic delays – has averaged two launches annually in most of its service life.
What’s worse, the Delta IV’s Heavy variant has only flown 11 times since 2004 and only three times in the last six years – a perfect recipe for terrible reliability.
SpaceX’s Block 5 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, meanwhile, have undoubtedly shown their own minor reliability issues since their debut in May 2018, but the reliability of timely launches and error counts have quickly become the norm in the last 12-18 months. In ~ 30 months since then, the Falcon Block 5 rockets have completed 41 consecutive successful launches – a huge amount of which has almost certainly helped SpaceX smooth out the bugs in the new version.
In general, SpaceX is known for moving extremely fast compared to the rest of the space industry. Remarkably, because the Falcon 9 B1062 suffered a rare last-second interruption on Oct. 2, SpaceX discovered a problem with several new Merlin 1D boosters and apparently removed the affected engines from the Falcon 9 Booster B1062, sent the engines to McGregor, Texas for testing. bad behavior and implemented a fix capable of satisfying their strictest customers (NASA and the U.S. military) in about three weeks.
The Falcon 9 B1062 is more likely to be fired statically again before the next launch attempt, which means that the rocket will likely be launched to the launch site around November 1st or 2nd, if things go nominally. Luckily, SpaceX’s solution will hold on and allow for a successful static fire Falcon 9 GPS III SV04 and will launch a few days after the ULA NROL-101’s own mission.