Nearly six months after a space station resupply mission disintegrated in the sky above Cape Canaveral, SpaceX plans to return to flight the Falcon 9 launch vehicle as early as December 19, according to company CEO Elon Musk.
“Aiming for Falcon rocket static fire at Cape Canaveral on the 16th and launch about three days later,” Musk said via Twitter early this morning.
Aiming for Falcon rocket static fire at Cape Canaveral on the 16th and launch about three days later
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 10, 2015
A launch on the 19th of the 20th Falcon 9 rocket would take place at approximately 8:25 pm EST during an approximately three-hour long launch window. (UPDATE: Orbcomm this afternoon issues a release stating launch would take place between 8:00 pm EST and 9:00 pm EST).
There had been rumors circulating about possible launch attempts on the 15th or 16th and persons inside SpaceX told Zero-G News in the last few days that paperwork had been filed for a December 19 launch date from Space Launch Complex 40.
What Musk didn’t say is whether or not SpaceX is still planning to attempt a landing of the first stage at their landing complex at Cape Canaveral AFS, as announced by a NASA Commercial Crew program manager during a meeting with the media last week. Also last week, the Air Force 45th Space Wing confirmed to Zero-G News that SpaceX has been working to finalize FAA commercial launch and landing approvals for both return to flight as well as returning to the Cape.
“One thing that is true in recent news is that SpaceX is waiting on FAA approval for both return to flight and doing a land landing vs. drone ship. John would know the latest status of each,” said a spokesperson with the 45th Space Wing in an email to Zero-G News (and shared with AmericaSpace.com) on December 2.
When it does launch, Falcon will be carrying the second load of spacecraft for Orbcomm’s OG2 network of machine-to-machine messaging satellites. Eleven of the second-generation satellites will be riding on the return to flight mission.
Yesterday, Orbcomm CEO Marc Eisenberg reported via Twitter @Marc944Marc, “All satellites fully fueled and attached to the rings. Waiting on SpaceX to confirm launch date.”
SpaceX’s previous Falcon 9 rocket, launched on June 28 carrying the Dragon CRS-7 space station resupply cargo craft, disintegrated about a minute and a half after liftoff when a strut inside the upper stage liquid oxygen tank failed.
SpaceX has not publicly stated the root cause of the failure but potential failure modes include manufacturing defects, inadequate certification process by both the third-party supplier and SpaceX or possibly the fueling and launch process flow for the vehicle. It is anticipated that the final mishap report will lay out some specifics of the failure. However, SpaceX and/or NASA may release only an executive summary of the full report, as Orbital ATK did in regards to last year’s failure of their Antares launch vehicle.
Matthew Travis / Zero-G News
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