CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – SpaceX is preparing for the launch of its second NASA mission of 2024, set to take place on Tuesday morning. The Falcon 9 rocket will carry the Earth-observing spacecraft PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem), which aims to vastly increase our understanding of the oceans and atmosphere.
After the completion of a Launch Readiness Review on Sunday, teams from NASA, SpaceX, and Space Launch Delta 45 are targeting a 1:33 a.m. EST (0633 UTC) liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
The upcoming PACE launch is notably the first time a U.S. government mission has targeted a polar orbit from Cape Canaveral in over 60 years. The suspension of polar flights followed an incident in 1960, when falling debris from a failed launch in Cuba killed a cow, sparking protests in Havana.
SpaceX resumed launches from the Cape on southerly trajectories in 2020, successfully flown 11 missions into polar orbit from the Florida spaceport without incident.
The Falcon 9 first stage booster supporting this launch, tail number B1081, is making its fourth flight. This mission marks a significant milestone as it will be the first time the agency will rely upon boosters that have flown five previous missions. Those Falcon Heavy side boosters most recently supported the launch of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft.
The total cost of the mission, including building the spacecraft, launch operations, and mission support once in orbit, is $948 million. NASA paid SpaceX about $81 million for the launch services of the Falcon 9 rocket.
Weather concerns loom over the atmosphere-observing mission as the launch teams head towards the overnight launch window, with the probability of violating weather at 60 percent for the Tuesday morning launch opportunity.
The PACE mission carries the goal of increasing our understanding of the interplay of the oceans and the atmosphere through the lens of phytoplankton and aerosols. Karen St. Germain, the director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, highlighted the importance of this mission in advancing scientific understanding and its role in the U.S. economy.