A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photograph: Joel Kowsky/Nasa/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

SpaceX-Nasa launch scrubbed due to poor weather

The first crewed flight from US soil since 2011 was called off 16 minutes before lift off; the next opportunity is on Saturday


The United States’ long-anticipated return to human spaceflight will have to wait a few more days after poor weather forced mission managers to scrub Wednesday’s planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida.

The first crewed flight from US soil since 2011 was called off 16min 53sec before the scheduled 4.33pm lift-off time, with SpaceX and Nasa officials blaming “strength of electric fields in the atmosphere”, translating to lightning near the launchpad.

The managers had spent the day monitoring a tropical storm over South Carolina and stormy conditions including a tornado warning at the Kennedy Space Center launch site at Cape Canaveral. They ultimately decided conditions were too dangerous to proceed.

“We gave it a good try, but we just couldn’t get there,” a SpaceX spokesman, John Insprucker, said. “We’ll come back another day.”

The next launch opportunity for the mission known as SpaceX Demo-2, which will take veteran Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS), is on Saturday at 3.22pm, with another at 3pm Sunday.

It will be the first crewed spaceflight from the US since the retirement of Nasa’s space shuttle fleet in 2011, and the first flight with crew of a private spaceship.

To proceed to launch, weather conditions need to be perfect not only at the launchpad, but also at dozens of “abort” locations stretching thousands of miles up the eastern seaboard of the US and across the Atlantic Ocean to the west coast of Ireland. Nasa and SpaceX identified more than 50 such splashdown locations across the rocket’s trajectory during its 12-minute ascent to orbit that might be required in the event of an in-flight emergency.

Tropical Storm Bertha, the second named cyclone to form ahead of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season on 1 June, was churning over South Carolina on Wednesday morning, with sustained winds of 50mph threatening to elevate waves in the Atlantic above the 10ft safety level.

However, it was the thunder and lightning storms that had sat over Cape Canaveral for most of the day that led to the decision to scrub the launch, with Behnken and Hurley strapped into their seats and the rocket fueled for flight. 

The launch director, Mike Taylor, told the crew that if the lift-off window had extended a further 10 minutes conditions would have been conducive to fly.

“We understand that everybody’s a little bummed out,” Behnken said. “It’s just part of the deal. Everybody was ready today but it’s just too bad … the ship looked great.”

Among the disappointed spectators was Donald Trump, who was attending the event with Vice-President Mike Pence. He left the space center without speaking to reporters and it is unclear if he will return to watch Saturday’s attempt.