SpaceX eyeing Jan. 8 for Falcon 9 return-to-flight
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX announced on their company blog that they could return their Falcon 9 rocket to service as early as Jan. 8, 2017. This would be the first flight of a Falcon 9 since another F9 exploded on Sept. 1, 2016. If things go as planned, the upcoming flight will send the Iridium Communications NEXT 1-10 satellite constellation to orbit and launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s SLC-4E (East) in California.
Closing the books on the September explosion
The Sept. 1 explosion occurred at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex (SLC) 40 as SpaceX was preparing to conduct a static test fire of the Falcon 9 prior before it was used to launch Spacecom’s $195 million AMOS-6 satellite.
On Monday, Jan. 2, the NewSpace firm issued a statement announcing that it had completed the four-month long investigation into the cause of the accident. According to their post, they reviewed “several thousand data streams of video and telemetry collected in the 93 milliseconds spanning the start of the anomaly to the total destruction of the vehicle.”
The company determined that the composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store cold helium inside the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage failed after super-cooled liquid oxygen (LOX) became trapped in the carbon composite overwrap.
The company stated that they were taking “corrective actions [to] address all credible causes and focus on changes which avoid the conditions that led to these credible causes.”
Throughout the course of the investigation, SpaceX worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), United States Air Force (USAF), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and aerospace industry experts to discover what had caused the two-stage rocket to erupt into a fireball while being fueled on the pad at SLC-40.
While sorting out what happened at SLC-40, SpaceX continues repurposing Launch Complex (LC)-39A at Kennedy Space Center for use on Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. SpaceFlight Insider reached out to SpaceX to confirm the date of their first static test fire at LC-39A, but, as of this writing, we haven’t received a reply.
While important for SpaceX’s commercial development program, this test will also be historic, as it will be the first time that a static fire test will be conducted at LC-39A in support of the Falcon 9. SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA on April 14, 2014, to use the launch site, which has been the site of historic launches, including Apollo 11 in 1969 and the first Space Shuttle in April 1981.
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.