SpaceX Pushes Return to Flight to January with Iridium NEXT Satellites

File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching 11 satellites for ORBCOMM Dec. 21, 2015. Their next scheduled launch will be the first following the loss of AMOS-6 last Sep., flying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB, CA as soon as early Jan., 2017. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace
File photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching 11 satellites for ORBCOMM Dec. 21, 2015. Their next scheduled launch will be the first following the loss of AMOS-6 last September, flying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg AFB, Calif., as soon as early January 2017. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

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:

Iridium-1 satellites undergoing pre-launch processing at their Vandenberg launch site last August. Photo Credit: Iridium
Iridium-1 satellites undergoing pre-launch processing at their Vandenberg launch site last August. Photo Credit: Iridium

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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Missions » Commercial Space » Iridium NEXT » Iridium-1 »


  1. Is this launcher delay stuff going to also delay human missions to Mars for a few hours or so?

    The Mars minions need to know right now!

    And what’s this?

    “The launch next year of a commercial communications craft jointly managed by London-based Inmarsat and the Greek satellite operator Hellas-Sat has been switched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket, officials said Thursday.”

    From: ‘Citing SpaceX delays, Inmarsat moves satellite launch from Falcon Heavy to Ariane 5’ By Stephen Clark December 9, 2016

    Never ever trust those silly Old World Europeans! We’ll just have to charge them triple the going price for seats to Mars. That will teach them not to mess with us!

    Yikes! A mob of Mars minions is gathering outside the Mars Boys Silicon Valley Klub and demanding answers!

    What should they be told?

    OK, as usual no one who knows anything wants to go on record with real answers so I’ll just feed the silly minions some old Musk fairy tale nonsense, OK?

    Yep, the minions are all so busy weeping and wailing about the end of the imploding small Hillary universe and scrambling like mad maggots into and through the extremely narrow and small worm hole shortcuts leading into the huge and expanding Trump universe that they’ll probably never even pay any attention to my feeding them the same old pap, right?

    OK! Here it goes! OOOPpps! First I need someone to do a little bit of serious rewriting of history. This following paragraph is just too horribly bad!

    “Although I can’t describe this revelation as gratifying because of the damage it’s caused, it is good to see a member of the Augustine committee confirm what many of us in the space community had long suspected, but could not prove – that the decision to terminate NASA’s human lunar return was not driven by technical or programmatic considerations, but rather by base and petulant political calculation and desire. It is unfortunate that it took so long for a member of the Augustine committee to publicly share this information. This knowledge would have been valuable to those members of Congress who were trying to save the VSE in the critical budget years of 2010 and 2011. If these facts had come to light then, we might have had a more positive resolution of the conflict. Now, as some of us predicted at the time, our human spaceflight program has been decimated and we are left with NASA’s Potemkin Village-like “#JourneytoMars” and the science-fiction fantasies of Elon Musk.”

    From: ‘Lost in Space or Thrown Away? – Revisiting the 2009 Augustine Committee Report’
    By Paul Spudis October 7, 2016

    This real NASA political space history stuff needs to be deleted or massively rewritten ASAP!

    As we all know, our Mars Boys Silicon Valley Klub already secretly owns everything in the Solar System!

    And who does this guy Spudis think he is to question the twisted web of Mars Now and Cheaply Too lies that we wise billionaire Mars Boys Silicon Valley Klub super space leaders weave?

    Aaahhh! Forget the questions! NASA is out of date and we’ve already been promised all of its budget anyway by the bought and paid for Washington, DC Inside the Beltway Power Brokers Klub, so we can just ignore those obsolete NASA fools and all of that agency’s naive supporters!

    “Mars Minions arise!

    Be brave male Mars minions! Grab your keyboards to fight hard and immediately cleanse the Internet of all anti-Mars posts!

    Your just reward will be a fantastic dream of meeting Barsoom’s Princess of Helium Dejah Thoris that we will enable for only the minor and mere charge of 3,000,000,000,000 dollars and the full and clear legal titles to your house, car, and life insurance!”

  2. “‘It doesn’t detract from efforts to reach Mars, but the moon is a more logical next step,’ said Dale Ketcham, Chief of Strategic Alliances for Space Florida. ‘And it’s more easily afforded.'”

    And, “Multiple nations, including China and Russia, have stated intentions of reaching the moon during the same time frame. That could mean the dawn of a new space race, one with moon bases and operations as its end game.”

    From: ‘Orlando 2030 Space officials see lunar landings by 2030’
    By Marco Santana December 12, 2016

    Note: At one time Mr. Musk was willing to buy Russian launchers, so buying rocket engines from an American company shouldn’t be a show stopper.

    “In February 2002, the group returned to Russia to look for three ICBMs, bringing along Mike Griffin, who had worked for the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and was just leaving Orbital Sciences Corporation, a maker of satellites and spacecraft. The group met again with Kosmotras, and were offered one rocket for US$8 million. However, this was seen by Musk as too expensive; Musk consequently stormed out of the meeting.”

    From: ‘SpaceX’ Wikipedia

    Would SpaceX fly Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launchers on Lunar supply and robotic Lander missions assuming the launchers eventually have high performance hydrolox upper stages?

    Would SpaceX ever put four of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RP-1/LOX AR1 500,000 lb thrust advanced, high Isp, and oxidizer-rich staged combustion cycle rocket engines on the first stages of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy?

    If the Falcon first stages are being reused, engine costs shouldn’t be an issue.

    And four AR1 rocket engines for a total of 2,000,000 lbs of thrust per Falcon first stage with the higher Isp performance kerolox AR1 engines could allow for very large and high performance hydrolox second stages for the evolved Falcon-9 and Falcon Heavy launchers and thus heavier payloads to LEO and higher orbits, or even Lunar missions.

    Mr. Musk can go to Mars. Everyone else can go to tap the resources of the Moon. What a deal!

    Time will tell.

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