SpaceX Falcon 9 RTF postponed to Jan. 14
The return-to-flight of SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket will have to wait another week. According to a report appearing on NoozHawk, industry sources say the company is now working toward a launch at 9:54 a.m. PST (12:54 p.m. EST / 17:54 GMT) on Jan. 14, 2017. This has been confirmed by the customer, Iridium Communications, on Twitter.
— Iridium Corporate (@IridiumComm) January 8, 2017
SpaceX had been planning to launch 10 Iridium NEXT satellites in an instantaneous launch window (this means it will only remain open for 1 second) at 10:22 a.m. PST (18:22 GMT) on Monday, Jan. 9, from Space Launch Complex 4E (East) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In advance of this date, the company had performed a static test fire for the Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 5, which it usually does to verify everything is working well with the rocket prior to launch day.
SpaceX is hoping to return the Falcon 9 to service after an explosion during a static fire test on Sept. 1, 2016, at the NewSpace firm’s Cape Canaveral launch pad caused the destruction of the rocket and payload it was carrying. The company spent the better part of four months investigating what caused the accident.
On Jan. 2, 2017, SpaceX announced that the composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) used to store the helium inside the Falcon 9’s second stage failed after some of the super-cooled, liquid oxygen (LOX) became trapped in the overwrap. While filling the stage with the LOX, conditions on and around the helium tank likely caused some of the trapped oxygen to freeze. This could have caused a buckle in the liner, leading to an ignition and subsequent failure of the COPV.
The Federal Aviation Administration gave the go-ahead on Friday Jan. 6 for the return-to-flight mission and six subsequent flights over the next couple years out of Vandenberg transporting 10 Iridium NEXT satellites each.
The Iridium-1 mission expected to the first flight in a busy year for the NewSpace company. In addition to a large backlog of commercial missions, SpaceX is expected to send three or four Dragon cargo ships to the International Space Station, launch the first Falcon Heavy rocket, send the first unpiloted Crew Dragon into space, and re-fly at least one of the recovered Falcon 9 first stages.
This follows the Sept. 1, 2016 explosion of another SpaceX Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. The NewSpace firm, along with the FAA, NASA, United States Air Force and others carried out an investigation as to the cause of the accident and determined that 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.
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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.