SpaceX Falcon 9 return to flight pushed into 2017
The return-to-flight launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has been delayed to early January. The NewSpace firm said it needs more time to finalize the investigation into the Sept. 1, 2016, pad explosion, which caused the loss of the rocket and its $195 million Amos-6 payload.
In a Dec. 7, 2016, update, the company said this delay will allow for it to complete the final steps to safely and reliably return to flight. Additionally, more time will be given to close-out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to ensure “the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch.”
This delay comes after the company said it was eyeing a potential Dec. 16, 2016, launch date for a Falcon 9 carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites – the Iridium-1 mission. Regardless of when SpaceX schedules the launch, final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration will still need to be gained.
When the launch does occur, it will be from SpaceX’s West Coast launch pad, Space Launch Complex 4E, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will be only the third time the company has used this pad.
The launch of the return-to-flight mission is unclear. Before this most recent delay, SpaceX was looking to fly the EchoStar 23 mission in early January, possibly Jan. 8, 2017, from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A – the former Space Shuttle launch pad, which the NewSpace firm recently modified for their Falcon rockets.
After that, it would have been a Jan. 22, 2017, launch of the CRS-10 Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, also from LC-39A. Whether that launch remains on schedule is yet to be seen.
Needless to say, the NewSpace firm has a huge backlog of missions to send into space, some delayed from the company’s first Falcon 9 mishap in June 2015. These missions include but are not limited to four commercial resupply missions to the space station, Commercial Crew demonstration flights, a Falcon Heavy demo flight, a number of Iridium NEXT launches, not to mention the growing list of commercial satellites. One of those commercial missions will be SES-10, which will see the first reuse of one of the company’s first stages, specifically the one recovered from the CRS-8 mission in April 2016.
When SpaceX finishes repairs to Space Launch Complex 40, where the Sept. 1 pad explosion occurred, then the company will have three active pads to expedite its launch flow. However, when repairs will be completed is unknown.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.