SpaceX aborts US spy satellite launch due to rocket booster pressure issue

SpaceX called off the planned launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a classified spy satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office due to high pressure in the second-stage booster.

The launch, dubbed NROL-108, was set to launch from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida during a three-hour launch window that opened at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) today (Dec. 17). The next launch attempt could occur on Friday (Dec. 18).

A temporary weather concern delayed the launch by 45 minutes, then SpaceX personnel called a hold 1 minute and 53 seconds before blastoff. The launch team attempted to ready the rocket for a second attempt during today's window but decided that wasn't feasible.

"During the countdown, pressure was slightly high in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank, which caused the abort," Andy Tran, a production supervisor at SpaceX who provided commentary for the launch, said during the live broadcast.

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A view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad prior to a scrub of the NROL-108 launch on Dec. 17, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX)

"Keep in mind, the purpose of the countdown is to help us catch these potential issues prior to flight; the vehicle and payload are in good health," Tran said after the delay was called but before SpaceX scrubbed the launch for the day. "This is the nature of the launch business."

It took more than an hour after the hold was called for SpaceX and the rest of mission support to decide not to attempt a launch today in the remainder of the launch window, which lasted until 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT).

"There are a thousand ways launch can go wrong and only one way it can go right," Tran said after the team decided to stand down from the launch attempt. "It just wasn't in the cards for us today."

With today's launch scrubbed, a backup flight window will open at 9 a.m. EST (1400 GMT) on Friday (Dec. 18) and lasts three hours.

"We do have a good shot tomorrow to send this NROL-108 satellite into orbit," Tran said.

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.