Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX still expects to resume launches by end of year

SpaceX facilities at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A photo credit Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Jared Haworth / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX will continue operations to resume launches despite their payload processing facility being damaged by Hurricane Matthew last week. The storm caused damage to the building’s roof and siding as well as blowing out its windows. Still, this has not deterred the company’s plans to continue launching its Falcon 9 rockets by the end of the year.

A spokesperson from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station said the exterior of SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility near Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) was severely damaged. Spaceflight Now reported that the building had experienced sustained wind gusts over 100 mph (160 km/h). The NewSpace firm, however, said it already has a backup facility to process payloads at the SLC-40 annex.

There was no damage to nearby Launch Complex 39A (LC 39A), where engineers are finishing up work to ready the former Space Shuttle pad to host SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Work is expected to be completed by late November.

Originally, the company planned to have the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy to be the first launch out of the LC 39A. However, due to the Sept. 1 pad explosion of a Falcon 9 at SLC-40, requiring extensive repairs to that pad, as soon as the LC 39A work is finished, SpaceX will have to utilize the complex to fly its backlog of commercial satellite missions.

Spaceflight Insider reported last week that the Hawthorne, California-based company was still in the process of finding the cause of the explosion, which also destroyed the payload: an Israeli-owned Amos-6 communications satellite.

In September, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said during the Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications conference in Malaysia that she expected the company will resume launches before the end of the year.

In an update on SpaceX’s website, the company stated that the failure was caused by a “large breach” in the cryogenic helium system of the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen tank. What exactly caused the breach is still under investigation, but Shotwell said the company is “homing in” on the issue.

According to Space News, in an Oct. 9 speech at National Academy of Engineering, Shotwell said the explosion was likely caused by an “operations” issue and not a design flaw.

“I think [the investigation is] going to point not to a vehicle issue or an engineering design issue but more of a business process issue,” Shotwell said.


Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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