Private space transportation company SpaceX will resume flights of its Falcon 9 rocket in early December after an almost half-year hiatus following an explosion of an ISS-bound mission in June this year.
SpaceX engineers have been working on an upgrade of the 63-metre launcher, which exploded a little over two minutes after lift-off from Cape Canaveral on 28 June this year carrying the Dragon space capsule packed with costly equipment and supplies for the International Space Station.
During the upgrade, engineers have replaced the strut holding a helium bottle inside the rocket’s upper-stage engine, which broke during the accident and caused the helium to be released. As a result, the engine over-pressurised and exploded.
"We believe in the next six to eight weeks we'll be able to return to flight," said Lee Rosen, SpaceX vice president of mission and launch operations, speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem.
The first planned launch will see Falcon 9 carrying to orbit a communications satellite owned by Luxembourg-based SES.
The rocket used in the launch will be more powerful than those flown previously and will attempt to land its first stage on a platform in the ocean. SpaceX attempted a controlled landing previously but the stage came down with too much force and was destroyed upon touch-down.
SpaceX is developing rocket landing capabilities to enable reuse of rocket engines, which would help cut down the cost of space travel.
On Wednesday, Nasa also announced the fourth re-supply mission of the Orbital Sciences-operated ATK Cygnus spacecraft, which has been grounded since an explosion last October.
The launch is scheduled for 3 December but the capsule will be carried to space by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket instead of Orbital Sciences’ own Antares.
A turbo-pump of Antares’ AeroJet Rocketdyne engine has been determined as the cause of the failure. Antares has been grounded since, undergoing a major redesign that would see the original engine replaced by the Russian-made RD-181 engine.