SpaceX is pushing back the return of their Falcon-9 rocket to flight (RTF) from Dec. 16 to early next month, aiming to deliver 10 Iridium NEXT satellites to orbit from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The launch is pending FAA approval following a Sept. 1 explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., which took out their rocket, launch complex, and their customer’s AMOS-6 satellite.
Though the investigation remains ongoing, SpaceX is confident the accident was related to flight preparation, not the vehicle itself. That said, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company released the following update this morning, Dec. 7:
“We are finalizing the investigation into our September 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. 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.”
The 10 Iridium NEXT satellites flying on Iridium-1 RTF are the first set of 70 the company is launching with SpaceX to replace their current constellation; all of which are contracted to fly on seven Falcon-9 launches over the next 18 months.
Prior to the AMOS-6 accident, Iridium wanted all their launches flown by the end of 2017.
The investigation has focused heavily on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen tank, with special attention narrowed to “one of the three composite over wrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank,” said SpaceX in an Oct. 28 update.
“Iridium supports SpaceX’s announcement today to extend the first Iridium NEXT launch date into early January, in order to help ensure a successful mission,” noted Iridium in a statement following SpaceX’s announcement. “We remain as confident as ever in their ability to safely deliver our satellites into low Earth orbit.”
No new launch date / time has been set.
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