NASA, SpaceX delay launch of Sentinel-6 ocean-mapping satellite to Nov. 21

Airbus Defence and Space technicians position the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft for fueling inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on Oct. 22, 2020.
Airbus Defence and Space technicians position the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft for fueling inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, on Oct. 22, 2020. (Image credit: USAF 30th Space Wing/Mike Peterson)

An ocean-monitoring satellite will have to wait at least 11 extra days to get into space.

The U.S.-European Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite mission is now expected to launch on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 12:17 p.m. EST (1717 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That's a delay from the prime Nov. 10 launch date.

The SpaceX launch was delayed following problems with the Falcon 9 rocket line that stopped a GPS satellite launch for the U.S. Air Force on Oct. 2. So far, however, there is no delay for the first operational commercial crew mission, Crew-1, which will also use a Falcon 9 rocket to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA added that the target launch date of Saturday, Nov. 14 for Crew-1 remains unchanged at this time.

Sentinel-6: This new satellite will help us understand climate change impacts 

In a virtual press conference Oct. 16, NASA launch services program director Tim Dunn said SpaceX was working on resolving a rocket gas generator issue blamed for the GPS satellite launch abort. "As of today [Oct. 16] we have a path forward that allows us to do any necessary rework that would be required and maintain that Nov. 10 launch date," Dunn said during the press conference.

But in a more recent NASA release, the agency said SpaceX will use the delay to finish Merlin engine testing and inspections on the Falcon 9, in light of the abort.

"After completing engine testing and inspections, teams from NASA and SpaceX have determined that two engines on the Sentinel-6 rocket's first stage would need to be replaced to ensure optimal performance during launch," NASA said in the release on Tuesday (Nov. 3). "Work is now progressing to implement the engine change, and all engine hardware replacements will finish next week."

Sentinel-6 will join a fast-growing network of Earth observation satellites monitoring our planet's global warming. Some of the chief contributions of the new mission will be better understanding the sources of sea rise and the movements of deep ocean currents.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace