Update from Sunday: Due to an unspecified problem with a first stage sensor, SpaceX scrubbed Sunday’s launch attempt at 7:14 a.m. ET, about 1 minute before liftoff. The company says it will attempt a second launch attempt on Monday, opening the window again at 7 a.m. ET. The weather forecast remains favourable, with a 70 percent chance of “go” conditions.
Original message: In 2014, after SpaceX found that the US Air Force unfairly favored a competitor in the commercial launch industry, SpaceX sued the federal government. The premise of the lawsuit was that the Air Force had ordered 36 rocket cores from United Launch Alliance without considering SpaceX as a possible bidder for the launches.
The anti-competition lawsuit never progressed as the government and SpaceX negotiated a deal behind closed doors. Ultimately, the Air Force commissioned 14 of those missions and certified SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as a potential launch service provider for the military and national security agencies. On Sunday, SpaceX will make its first flight with a national security satellite as its primary payload since certification in 2015.
Not much is known about the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-76 satellite, which will launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Sunday launch window opens at 7am ET (12am UK) and lasts for two hours. The weather conditions are favourable. A Monday morning backup launch window also opens at 7 AM. SpaceX will then attempt to land a first stage along the coast, at the landing zone 1 location.
After waiting so long to compete for the lucrative national security launch market, the company’s press release for Sunday’s launch contains what can probably be safely taken as a joke against United Launch Alliance, which has struggled to compete with SpaceX by price. The release notes that the Falcon 9 is “a two-stage rocket designed from the ground up by SpaceX for the reliable and cost efficient transportation of satellites.” (Emphasis ours).
SpaceX will provide a webcast for Sunday’s launch, but if this is like previous spy satellite missions, coverage of the ascent will end shortly after launch. SpaceX is expected to report the first landing attempt about nine minutes after launch.