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

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

If schedules are correct, SpaceX will face 70% “go” conditions at the Kennedy Space Center for the 9:00 am to 12:00 noon launch of a secret intelligence satellite owned by the National Reconnaissance Office. An exact launch time within that three-hour window has not yet been released.

“From Wednesday morning to Thursday morning, a strong high-pressure system moving east from south Texas will bring cooler, drier air to the Space Coast,” the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron said Tuesday. “The main concerns for the weather for Thursday are rising winds and the rule of thick cloud layers related to any persistent head-on cloud cover.”

While not included in the ‘percentage go’ calculation on path 39A, forecasters noted that top-level winds could pose a moderate risk by Thursday morning.

After launch, Falcon 9’s 162-foot first stage booster will separate from the second stage and then begin its descent back to Florida. The goal: Landing Zone 1 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, about 9 miles south of Path 39A.

As it descends to the tip of the Cape, Space Coast residents and spectators should be prepared for the triple sound signals generated by the booster, which are harmless apart from a few scares and a car alarm.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was selected by the NRO for this mission, known as NROL-108. While intelligence rarely provides details of its charges, Mission artwork released Tuesday depicts an angry, fanged gorilla hitting his chest next to the text ‘Peace Through Strength’.

“Gorillas are peaceful animals, but can be fierce if needed,” said NRO said via Twitter. “Like the gorilla, our NROL-108 mission is constantly vigilant and ready to defend his, demonstrating the NRO’s commitment to protecting US war fighters, interests and allies.”

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

Launch details

  • Missile: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: NRO intelligence satellite
  • Start time: to be determined
  • Starting window: 9 a.m. to noon 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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