SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will stay grounded longer than originally expected

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket to remain grounded

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which exploded in June destroying a cargo capsule with supplies for the International Space Station, will stay grounded for longer than originally expected. 

Originally, the private space firm, led by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, considered returning the rocket to flight in September, but has now decided more work needs to be done to prevent a similar mishap from occurring again.

"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," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in a webcast during a panel discussion at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, California.

Shotwell didn’t elaborate on the exact date for Falcon 9 to return to service, but hinted the day is a couple of months away.

The accident - which took place on 28 June about two minutes after launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida - was blamed on a faulty support strut in the rocket's upper-stage engine.

The failure of the metal strut released a bottle of helium that caused the second-stage engine to over-pressurise and explode above the Atlantic Ocean.

The accident was a huge blow for Nasa, which lost a lot of precious equipment in the destroyed Dragon, including an International Docking Adaptor, a new type of docking mechanism needed for Nasa to be able to start operating private space taxis.

SpaceX’s explosion left the American space agency dependent on its international partners to deliver supplies to the orbital outpost some 400km above the Earth’s surface as the second private American-built cargo delivery system, the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket, is still grounded after an explosion in October last year.

The operations of the International Space Station are now dependent on Japanese and Russian space ships. Russia also experienced problems this year and lost an ISS-bound cargo ship in April. However, its Progress space capsule and the Soyuz rocket have since returned to flight.

SpaceX has a backlog of nearly 60 launches, worth more than $7bn in total.

The next mission on SpaceX's launch calendar was supposed to be a US 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.

SpaceX also has been cleared to compete against industry stalwart United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, to fly US military satellites.

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