Final SpaceX rocket launch of 2020 to bring sonic booms to Central Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Weather conditions look mostly favorable for the Space Coast’s last launch of the year on Thursday, a mission slated to include Earth-shaking sonic booms generated by a Falcon 9 booster’s descent to Cape Canaveral.

If schedules hold, SpaceX will face 70% “go” conditions at Kennedy Space Center for its 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. launch of a secretive intelligence satellite owned by the National Reconnaissance Office. An exact liftoff time within that three-hour window has not yet been released.

“Overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning, a strong high-pressure system moving east from southern Texas will bring cooler, drier air to the Space Coast,” the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron said Tuesday. “The primary weather concern for Thursday is liftoff winds and the thick cloud layer rule associated with any lingering frontal cloudiness.”

Though not included in the “percent go” calculation at pad 39A, forecasters noted that upper-level winds could be a moderate risk by Thursday morning.

After liftoff, Falcon 9′s 162-foot first stage booster will separate from the second stage, then start its descent back toward Florida. Its target: Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, which is about 9 miles south of pad 39A.

As it descends toward the tip of the Cape, Space Coast residents and spectators should be prepared for the triple sonic booms generated by the booster, which are harmless save for a few frights and triggered car alarms.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was selected by the NRO for this mission, known as NROL-108. Though the intelligence agency rarely provides details about its payloads, mission artwork released Tuesday shows an angry, fanged gorilla beating its chest next to text that reads, “Peace Through Strength.”

“Gorillas are peaceful animals but can be fierce when necessary,” the NRO said via Twitter. “Like the gorilla, our NROL-108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend its own, demonstrating NRO’s commitment to protecting U.S. warfighters, interests, and allies.”

Thursday’s launch will mark the 31st of the year for the Space Coast.

Launch details

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: NRO intelligence satellite
  • Launch Time: TBD
  • Launch Window: 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET
  • Launch Pad: 39A at Kennedy Space Center
  • Landing: Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
  • Weather: 70% “go”

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