SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Tuesday, while attending the World Satellite Business Week meeting in Paris, that the company anticipates being able to return to rocket flight as early as November. This marks the first time we’re hearing about relaunch plans from SpaceX following the September 1 explosion of its Falcon 9 rocket during a routine static fire test.
Shotwell confirmed that the company is still investigating reasons behind why the explosion took place and thus far have not determined a main cause of failure. “We are at an early stage of the investigation,” Shotwell told attendees of the Paris meeting. “The reason for the explosion is still unknown, but we know the rocket very well and know what we need to study.” As a result of the recent explosion and ongoing investigation, SpaceX will delay its plans to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket which was originally scheduled for later this year, to the first quarter of 2017. For those that may not be familiar with the Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX will utilize three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together – a total of twenty seven Merlin engines – to produce 4 million pounds of thrust. The Falcon Heavy will be capable of transporting a 116,845 pound payload into orbit making it the word’s most powerful rocket.
While repairs take place on a heavily damaged Launch Complex 40, site of the recent Falcon 9 explosion, the company looks to historic Launch Complex 39A as one of the options for its upcoming November flight. Built in 1965, Launch Pad 39A has has hosted launches from the famed Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins departed from there for the Moon on Apollo 11. SpaceX has since renovated Launch Pad 39A with the goal of adapting it to the needs of the company’s Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 rocket. Shotwell said that the upcoming November flight could take place from either Launch Pad 39A or the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, depending on the customer.
True to form with any Elon Musk-based company, returning to flight just three months after a major catastrophic failure, let alone one that is still pending investigation, speaks to SpaceX’s unrelenting mission to make spaceflight commercially viable. The company looks to build reusable rockets that can transport cargo into space and land itself back on earth. Being able to reuse rockets allows the company to increase its tempo on relaunches while drastically reducing costs by not having to rebuild rockets after each use.