SpaceX to resume rocket launches in November following explosion
SpaceX, the commercial space launch company owned by Tesla founder Elon Musk, has said it aims to resume flights in November following a launch pad fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket earlier this month.
The explosion on September 1st destroyed not only the rocket itself, but also an Israeli communications satellite that it was due to lift into orbit.
The space services company suspended Falcon 9 flights while it investigates why the rocket burst into flames as it was being fueled for a routine prelaunch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Last week, Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance – which is a major SpaceX competitor – predicted that the incident would prevent the company from launching rockets for the next year.
Yet Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, is more optimistic. "We're anticipating being down for about three months, getting back to flight in the November timeframe," she said at a satellite industry conference in Paris.
Shotwell did not elaborate on what repairs to the rocket, if any, would be needed for SpaceX to return to flight in November.
The company also has not said how much damage the blast caused to the launch pad and ground support equipment.
The accident destroyed the $200m satellite owned by Israel company Spacecom which said it would seek $50m (£38m) compensation or a free flight from SpaceX as a result of the incident.
SpaceX previously said a nearly-completed second launch site in Florida, located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), would be finished in November. The pad was last used to launch NASA's space shuttles five years ago.
On Tuesday, NASA said it had no reservations about SpaceX flying at KSC.
"We're confident that SpaceX will understand and recover from what happened," said Tom Engler, KSC deputy director of Centre Planning and Development. "From our perspective, (the accident) changed nothing as far as our planning and implementation activities are concerned."
A source familiar with SpaceX's plans said the first flight from the KSC launch pad would be a Falcon 9 rocket, not the debut flight of Falcon Heavy, as previously scheduled. The Falcon Heavy, a 27-engine version of the nine-engine Falcon 9, would most likely fly in the first quarter of 2017.
The customer for SpaceX's return-to-flight mission has not yet been named. Before the accident, the next satellite slated to fly aboard a Falcon 9 from Florida was owned by Luxembourg-based SES SA. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.
SpaceX has a backlog of more than 70 missions, worth more than $10bn. Before the Sept 1 accident, Falcon 9 rockets had flown 27 times successfully and failed once.