December 8, 2016
SpaceX announces plans to return to spaceflight in January
After a Sept. 1 blast ripped apart one of its Falcon 9 rockets, SpaceX has announced it is targeting early January for its return to spaceflight.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk had said the company was aiming for mid-December for its next mission, which is slated to send 10 spacecraft into orbit for the communications company Iridium. Iridium officials indicated last week the launch could take place on Dec. 16.However, SpaceX needs more time to make the necessary preparations, the company said in a blog post on Wednesday.
"We are finalizing the investigation into our Sept. 1 anomaly and are working to complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight, now in early January with the launch of Iridium-1," the company wrote. "This allows for additional time to close out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to help ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch."
Recovering After a Terrible Accident
The Sept. 1 explosion happened during a scheduled test prior to the planned launch of a communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The explosion wrecked the two-stage Falcon 9 and the $200 million satellite.
SpaceX said it traced the cause to the interaction between oxygen and a carbon-composite helium vessel in the rocket's upper stage. However, the company still must complete its report and have the Federal Aviation Administration approve of the findings before Falcon 9 can be launched again.
The company can't launch another rocket without the critical FAA license.
This isn't the first time SpaceX dealt with such a setback. In June 2015, a Falcon 9 disintegrated less than 3 minutes after launch. The incident scrapped an unmanned cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA.
According to SpaceX, a defective steel strut within the Falcon 9's upper section caused that explosion. A revamped version of the rocket was launched six months later, delivering 11 satellites into orbit for the company Orbcomm.
The Falcon 9's first stage came back to land at Cape Canaveral after that launch, the first time a rocket ever accomplished such a landing. Since then, five other Falcon 9 rockets have landed softly back on Earth and SpaceX has said it intends to re-fly one of these rockets soon.
Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett