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SpaceX launches communication satellite on third try

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NEW YORK — After two aborted attempts and a three-day delay, SpaceX successfully sent a communications satellite soaring toward orbit on Wednesday.

The commercial space company, headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, initially planned for the launch to occur on July 2, but pushed it to July 3 — when it was scrubbed for a second time.

In both attempts, the countdown was halted with just nine seconds left on the clock.

SpaceX said the abort on Monday was not triggered by an issue with the hardware, and it wasn’t a human-made decision.

Rather, SpaceX’s computers — which are programmed to screen the rocket for any abnormalities — scrubbed the launch. Additional information was not immediately available.

Musk announced in the early hours of July 4 that SpaceX would spend the holiday “doing a full review of rocket & pad systems.”

That appeared to pay off when Wednesday’s launch effort went off without a hitch.

It marked SpaceX’s tenth launch so far in 2017, and its third launch in just 12 days. That’s an impressive performance, considering the company only launched eight rockets in all of 2016.

A series of smooth launches is just what SpaceX needed after suffering a major setback in September, when one of its rockets spontaneously erupted into flames on the launch pad, destroying a satellite and grounding the company for months.

That now seems like a distant memory.

Since then, SpaceX has twice achieved its most crucial — and difficult — innovation: putting used rockets back into space.

Traditionally, rockets have been left to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere after launch, and that’s why going to space has been so expensive. As Musk puts it, that’s like discarding an airplane after it flies a single route.

So, SpaceX’s approach is to make launches less costly by reusing portions of its rockets. To do that, SpaceX had to devise a way to recapture its rockets, called Falcon 9, after launch.

After some trial and error, SpaceX mastered the maneuver.

The necessary level of precision is astounding. Consider that in the past, when engineers have landed space faring objects, such as a Mars rover, they’ve aimed for a spot somewhere within a 120-mile stretch of land. SpaceX’s rockets hit targets smaller than football fields.

The company did not attempt its signature move on Wednesday. The satellite on board was extremely heavy, so the Falcon 9 will have to go full throttle to generate enough upward thrust. That meant there won’t be enough fuel left to guide the Falcon home.

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