NASASpaceflight.com has reported that two SpaceX launches have slipped five days, with SES-11 and Iridium NEXT-3 respectively scheduled for launch on October 7th and 9th. Initially planned for October 2nd and 4th, the concurrent delays mean SpaceX will still attempt to conduct two launches within approximately 48 hours of each other.
We expect the Falcon 9 launch with the third set of Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg to be NET Oct. 9. Philip Sloss (NSF) IR-2 photo. pic.twitter.com/rv7FoM5ZbC
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) September 25, 2017
Earlier this summer, SpaceX managed to successfully launch three Falcon 9 missions in just 12 days, with two of those launches and booster recoveries occurring in less than 48 hours. As such, the company has readily demonstrated its ability for rapid-fire launch cadence and a willingness to schedule missions as few as 24 hours apart, if necessary.
While SpaceX is only able to intermittently achieve such a cadence, their ability to launch rapidly will likely mature as LC-40 is reactivated and the company finds itself with three active launch pads. This is the only way SpaceX can achieve a planned cadence of weekly launches by 2019, and it would also help the company conduct several dozen potential launches next year, 28 of which presently have tentative launch dates in 2018.
If all goes according to plan, the second week of October will see two Falcon 9 vehicles launch satellites into Earth orbits and then return to their respective oceans for recovery aboard both of SpaceX’s autonomous droneships; Just Read The Instructions in the Pacific, and Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic.
Of Course I Still Love You‘s mythical robotic companion was spotted out and about aboard the droneship earlier this week by Julia Bergeron, an active SpaceX fan and resident of Florida’s Space Coast. More exciting still, the launch of SES-11 will be the second time the telecommunications company has chosen to fly on a refurbished Falcon 9, and SpaceX’s third commercial reuse of an orbital-class rocket.
— Julia (@julia_bergeron) September 22, 2017
SpaceX’s next Eastern mission, Koreasat 5A, may be pushed back at least several days from its tentative October 14th launch date due to the aforementioned delays. SES-11 may be the last launch from the LC-39A launch facility for some time, requiring Koreasat 5A to launch from SpaceX’s second Eastern pad, LC-40. LC-39A needs a hiatus from launch activities for at least several weeks to give SpaceX’s pad engineers time needed to modify the facility for Falcon Heavy. Extensive on-pad testing for Falcon Heavy will precede its inaugural launch attempts, and that process will demand a level of flexibility that an operational launch facility simply could not support over a period of several weeks or months.
Still, SpaceX is unlikely to allow Falcon Heavy to seriously intervene with or delay its customers’ launches, and evidence of LC-40 nearing launch readiness is currently hard to find. SpaceX employees are reportedly busy assembling and outfitting the Transporter/Erector/Launcher (TEL) that will allow for launches to begin again at the newly repaired pad, but a significant amount of work remains. If LC-40 ends up requiring more time to reach operational status, LC-39A will undoubtedly continue to support commercial launches until it can be seamlessly replaced. A slower reactivation of LC-40 will also inevitably result in delays of some sort to Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch date, pushing the massive rocket’s first liftoff well into December 2017 or the first few months of 2018.