Update for Dec. 19: SpaceX and Blue Origin have postponed their respective launches again. Read our full story here.
Original story: With no less than FOUR rocket launches by four different companies, today promised to be an epic one for space fans. But by mid-morning, two of the most anticipated launches, by SpaceX and Blue Origin, were scrubbed by glitches, while weather forced another launch delay in South America.
SpaceX and Blue Origin kicked off the launch attempts today (Dec. 18). A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was set to launch GPS III SV01, the first of an advanced new navigation satellite system for the U.S. military. At first the mission, initially scheduled for 9:11 a.m. EST (1411 GMT), slipped a few minutes to 9:34 a.m. EST as SpaceX prepared for launch at its Cape Canaveral Air Force Station pad in Florida. But seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9's onboard computer triggered an abort, forcing SpaceX to stand down for the day.
"We did have an abort," SpaceX Firmware Engineer Tom Praderio said during live commentary. "This abort was triggered by the onboard Falcon 9 flight computer. The unfortunate part is that it has pushed us past our launch window today." SpaceX had a 26-minute window for the launch attempt. The company will try again Wednesday (Dec. 19), with liftoff set for 9:07 a.m. EST (1407 GMT).
The day's rocket delays began even before SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch try.
Early this morning, the European launch provider Arianespace announced it was standing down from a planned 11:37 a.m. EST (1637 GMT) launch attempt of a Soyuz rocket carrying the CSO-1 spy satellite for the French military. Bad weather conditions at the Soyuz's Guiana Space Center launch site in Kourou, French Guiana, was the cause, the company said.
Then Blue Origin, the commercial spaceflight company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, announced its own launch delay.
Blue Origin aimed to launch its suborbital New Shepard rocket and capsule from the company's West Texas test site at 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT) — yes, that would have been just FOUR MINUTES ahead of SpaceX's own launch. The reusable New Shepard is making its fourth spaceflight and packed with nine NASA-sponsored experiments to study different aspects of microgravity.
But alas, it wasn't meant to be. At 8:53 a.m. EST (1353 GMT), even before going live with a planned webcast, Blue Origin stood down for the day.
"We are scrubbing today's #NewShepard launch due to a ground infrastructure issue," company officials said via Twitter. "The vehicle is in good standing. Stand by for updates as we see what weather looks like for tomorrow."
By mid-morning, three of the four scheduled rocket launches had slipped to no earlier than tomorrow. But what about that fourth one? More bad news.
The fourth launch scheduled for today was a massive Delta IV Heavy rocket built by the United Launch Alliance. It was scheduled to launch the new U.S. spy satellite NROL-71 into orbit for the National Reconnaissance Office tonight at 8:57 p.m. EST (0157 Dec. 19 GMT) from a pad at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The mission has been delayed more than a week after a Dec. 8 launch abort.
While all systems looked good for the Delta IV Heavy launch early in the day, by Tuesday afternoon, a bad weather forecast sealed the launch attempt's fate.
"The Delta IV Heavy launch of NROL-71 has been scrubbed today due to high winds," ULA representatives said in a Twitter update. "Launch is now planned for 12/19 at 5:44pm PST."
So, a day that began with the awesome promise of four launches ended with none. But there may be a silver lining.
All four launches are currently delayed to no earlier than Wednesday (Dec. 19). So that would again have all four launches in a single day. Plus, the India Space Research Organisation plans to launch its own Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle on the same day to put a communications satellite in orbit. So that would be FIVE rocket launches if the schedule holds.
And there's more.
A Russian Soyuz space capsule is scheduled to return to Earth with three members of the International Space Station's Expedition 57 crew. The trio will undock from the station at 8:42 p.m. EST (0142 GMT) and land on the steppes of Kazakhstan early Thursday at 12:03 a.m. EST (0503 GMT).
Editor's note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. EST to reflect the delayed launch of all four rockets on Tuesday.