SpaceX, the privately held rocket company owned and by technology guru Elon Musk, plans to return its Falcon 9 rocket to flight in a few months with the launch of an upgraded Falcon 9, sometimes called Falcon 9 v 1.2.
The update has been delayed due to a June 28th launch failure.
Speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2015 Conference, SpaceX president Gwynne Stockwell promised that, “Our next flight will be both the return to flight and the first flight of the upgraded vehicle. So whenever people ask me what keeps me up at night, it’s getting ready for that flight.”
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 launch failure and the added work of checking and double checking the new rocket has delayed the upcoming launch. 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.
The accident, along with a failed launch of an Orbital ATK Antares rocket also carrying cargo for the space station, has left NASA dependent on Japanese and Russian launches to resupply the station.
Shotwell pointed out that while the problem with the June launch is something that can be “easily corrected,” SpaceX is not taking chances with any other part of the rocket. “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 . . . What we wanted to do was to take advantage of the lessons that we learned from that particular failure and make sure we’re not seeing something like that anywhere throughout the vehicle.”
The next mission scheduled for SpaceX had been to launch a United States government ocean-monitoring satellite named Jason 3. However, it looks that the U.S. has been bumped from the front of the line and a commercial satellite will launch first.
One of SpaceX’s main goals is not only to have a successful launch, but also to have a successful landing so that the company can refurbish and reuse the rocket. Shotwell stated that, “I want to see a Falcon 9 first stage land on a drone ship or land on my landing site this year. I want to stick a landing this year.”