A second attempt to launch the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will take place in Florida today, as Elon Musk’s private space firm aims to deliver a spy satellite into orbit for the US Air Force.
It is the first time SpaceX is launching a satellite for the US military, following an $83 million contract with the Air Force.
The satellite launch is scheduled for 9.07am EST (2.07pm GMT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
It will be the first of three major rocket launches today, with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin set to send its New Shepard capsule into the skies above West Texas just 19 minutes later.
A third launch is then planned from multinational satellite firm Arianespace and the US-based United Launch Alliance.
Follow all the latest news of the launches here.
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Christmas has come early for space fans, with four separate rocket launches scheduled for today, 18 December.
Among them is the final launch of the year for SpaceX, which will launch a next-generation GPS satellite for the US Air Force at 9.11am EST (2.11pm GMT), as well as Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule, scheduled to launch just 19 minutes later.
Here's the full list of today's launch locations and times:
- SpaceX GPS satellite launch, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida – 9.11am EST (2.11pm GMT)
- Blue Origin New Shepard capsule launch, West Texas – 9.30am EST (2.11pm GMT)
- Arianespace spy satellite launch, Kourou, French Guiana – 11.37am EST (4.37pm GMT)
- United Launch Alliance classified cargo launch, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California – 8.57pm EST (1.57am GMT, 19 December)
Weather in Florida suggests a high chance the SpaceX launch will go ahead as planned today, according to Kennedy Space Center.
In attendance at the Cape Canaveral launch site is US Vice President Mike Pence, who calls the SpaceX mission "an important day for American leadership in space."
Speaking to the Associate Press earlier, two officials say the VP may also be making an announcement later today about Donald Trump's proposed Space Force programme.
Here's what Pence has previously said about the space initiative: "Trump is committed to preparing for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people and our nation…The time has come to establish the United States."
Read the full story here:
Blue Origin also seems on track for the second launch of the day, with the New Shepard rocket on the pad beneath blue skies in West Texas.
A reminder that all four rocket launches are being live streamed today. We'll be providing links to all of them as soon as they go live.
So with less than an hour to go until the SpaceX launch, what can we expect from the landmark launch?
Firstly, there will be a 26-minute launch window beginning at 9.11am EST (2.11pm GMT).
Mission requirements will mean there will not be an attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage rocket after launch.
The payload is a GPS III satellite, which the US Air Force says “will augment the current constellation of 31 operational GPS satellites.”
Here is a full timeline of the mission, courtesy of SpaceX:
Hour/Min/Sec – Events
00:38:00 - SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for propellant load
00:35:00 - RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading underway
00:35:00 - 1st stage LOX (liquid oxygen) loading underway
00:16:00 - 2nd stage LOX loading underway
00:07:00 - Falcon 9 begins engine chill prior to launch
00:01:00 - Command flight computer to begin final prelaunch checks
00:01:00 - Propellant tank pressurization to flight pressure begins
00:00:45 - SpaceX Launch Director verifies go for launch
00:00:03 - Engine controller commands engine ignition sequence to start
00:00:00 - Falcon 9 liftoff
LAUNCH AND SATELLITE DEPLOYMENT
Hour/Min/Sec – Events
00:01:04 - Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket)
00:02:44 - 1st stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
00:02:48 - 1st and 2nd stages separate
00:02:50 - 2nd stage engine starts
00:03:22 - Fairing deployment
00:08:16 - 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-1)
01:08:51 - 2nd stage engine restarts
01:09:37 - 2nd stage engine cutoff (SECO-2)
01:56:17 - GPS III SV01 deployment
SpaceX has just announced a new launch time of 9.34am EST (2.34pm GMT), owing to wind levels.
This puts it at the end of the scheduled launch window and pushed it behind the Blue Origin launch.
Should it be cancelled, there is a backup window scheduled for Wednesday, 19 December at 9.07am EST (2.07pm GMT).
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