SpaceX aborts launch of Starlink satellites seconds before liftoff due to rocket landing concerns

rainy and foggy camera view of starlink satellites atop a falcon 9 rocket. at bottom is a countdown clock frozen at t-16 seconds
SpaceX called off the launch of 46 Starlink satellites on April 26, 2023 at T-16 seconds due to "probability of landing failure" for the Falcon 9 rocket. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX called off the launch of a new fleet of Starlink internet satellites from a California pad early Wednesday (April 26) due to landing concerns with the mission's Falcon 9 rocket.

The Falcon 9 rocket, which is carrying 46 Starlink satellites, was scheduled to lift off from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base at 9:40 a.m. EDT (1340 GMT; 6:40 a.m. local California time), but the attempt was aborted with T-16 seconds to go.

"Scrub was due to probability of landing failure," a SpaceX official said during live commentary, after the countdown was halted. The launch has been delayed to Thursday (April 27) for the same launch time, SpaceX officials confirmed, and follows an earlier delay from an April 25 target. You can watch the Starlink launch live online, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning about 15 minutes before liftoff.

Related: 8 ways that SpaceX has transformed spaceflight

The Falcon 9 first stage is expected to return to Earth 8.5 minutes after liftoff to land on the deck of the SpaceX droneship Of Course I Still Love You, stationed off the California coast. This will be the 13th flight of this particular booster, which has already flown two NASA astronaut flights, three Starlink missions and seven other commercial missions.

SpaceX did not immediately provide details on why the rocket was not expected to make the landing. Conditions were quite foggy during the launch window, however.

Starlink is SpaceX's large and fast-growing megaconstellation of satellites. It currently has about 4,000 operational satellites, but that number could soar to more than 40,000 once complete.

While Starlink did not make its launch window today, SpaceX has another rocket aiming to launch its own orbital mission later this evening. 

The company's powerful Falcon Heavy rocket will launch for on its sixth mission Thursday (April 27) at 7:29 p.m. EDT (2329 GMT), carrying two commercial satellites toward geostationary orbit. You can watch the whole thing live.

Update for April 26, 11:40 a.m. EDT: SpaceX is now targeting Thursday, April 27,  to launch its sixth Falcon Heavy mission carrying satellites for Astranis and ViaSat.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: