Wednesday, September 2, 2015

SpaceX Grounded Longer than Expected

SpaceX's Falcon 9 explodes shortly after the launch on June 28, 2015. Credit: SpaceX/NASA

SpaceX still isn’t ready to give its Falcon 9 rocket another launch date following its primary mission failure in June, when an unmanned rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded just a couple of minutes after taking off. "We’re taking more time than we originally envisioned, but I don’t think any one of our customers wants us to race to the cliff and fail again,” Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said at a webcast panel discussion at the AIAA Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, California. She said the company was "a couple of months away from the next flight."

The June 28 accident, which destroyed a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station for NASA, is believed to have been triggered by a flawed support strut in the rocket's upper-stage engine.

The metal strut broke about two minutes after the rocket lifted off from Florida, releasing a bottle of helium that over-pressurized the second-stage engine. Seconds later, the rocket exploded over the Atlantic Ocean.

Shotwell said Monday the diagnosis of the failure shared by Musk in July still stands.

“What we’re trying to do is not only go fix that particular problem,” Shotwell said. “That’s an easy problem to go fix, but what we wanted to do is to take advantage of the lessons we had learned from that particular failure and make sure we’re not seeing something like that anywhere throughout the vehicle or the supply chain.”

SpaceX has a backlog of nearly 50 launches, worth more than $7 billion, on its schedule.

The next mission on SpaceX’s launch calendar had been a U.S. government ocean-monitoring satellite called Jason 3, but Shotwell indicated that a commercial communications satellite would move to the front of the line.

Luxembourg-based SES SA has a contract to fly on the first Falcon 9 rocket that features an upgraded first-stage engine.

The upgrade will allow SpaceX to attempt to land its rockets back at the launch site from high-altitude missions so they can be refurbished and reused.

The Jason 3 satellite is slated to fly aboard the standard Falcon 9.

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