COVID-19 Related Propellant Supply Issues Delay Landsat 9 Launch, Impact SpaceX Missions

Landsat 9 Operational Land Imager 2 (Credit: Ball Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA says that a surge in COVID-19 cases has caused supply issues that have delayed the planned launch of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base by one week to no earlier than Sept. 23.

“Current pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen [LOX] have impacted the delivery of the needed liquid nitrogen supply to Vandenberg by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and its supplier Airgas,” the space agency said in a blog post. “Airgas converts the liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen needed for launch vehicle testing and countdown sequences. DLA and Airgas now have implemented efforts to increase the supply of liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg.”

An United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster will launch the satellite from Space Launch Complex 3 at the California Space Force base.

Landsat 9 is the latest in a series of Earth observation satellites dating back to 1972. Landsat spacecraft have provided continuous monitoring of Earth’s land and costal regions.

During the annual Space Symposium last week, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said that COVID-19 related shortage of LOX is impacting the schedule of launches of the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, Starship and Super Heavy boosters.

Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters are already operational. SpaceX plans to launch the first Super Heavy/Starship rocket on its first flight test later this year.