SpaceX, the privately held rocket company owned and run by technology guru Elon Musk, plans to return its Falcon 9 rocket to flight with the launch of an upgraded Falcon 9, sometimes called Falcon 9 v 1.2. The launch will happen in the next week - something the company has waited for since a launch failure happened in June.
Prior to the June launch failure, the Falcon 9 was scheduled to launch in September, carrying the SES-9 satellite owned by the Luxembourg based satellite company, SES.
However, the recent failure and the added work of checking and double checking the new rocket delayed the launch - until now. According to SpaceX, the June launch was carrying a cargo ship headed toward the International Space Station for NASA. A metal strut holding down a helium bottle in the rocket’s upper stage broke. Helium then leaked from the bottle causing over-pressurization of the second stage engine. It burst and the rocket exploded over the Atlantic Ocean.
Now, with the company confident that the Falcon is safe and ready to go, it will be taken to Cape Canaveral on December 16 and the launch attempt will take place on December 19. The Falcon is set to carry 11 satellites from its customer, Orbcomm. The satellites will be released into “low-Earth orbit.”
For SpaceX, there is a lot riding on the success of this launch. While customers (current and potential) can forgive a launch failure here and there, companies insuring said launches are not so forgiving. A good record of reliability greatly reduces insurance premiums, which in turn will make SpaceX more attractive to potential customers.
Moreover, a successful launch will serve SpaceX well in regards to securing future military launches. SpaceX is trying to position itself within this highly lucrative market. The military can currently launch classified systems using the government’s X37-B spaceplane, but it is only capable of carrying a small load. In order to launch large systems into space, the military needs to use a reliable, larger rocket. That’s where SpaceX hopes the Falcon will come into play.
A successful December 19 launch will get SpaceX back on track and will hopefully bring in greatly-needed revenues. If successful, the company will return to sending up launches on a near-monthly basis.