SpaceX announced today (Dec. 10) that the aerospace firm is now targeting Dec. 19 as the target date for the ‘Return to Flight’ of their Falcon 9 rocket, and comes approximately six months after their last launch in late June 2015 ended suddenly in a catastrophic mid-air calamity resulting in total destruction of the rocket carrying out a critical cargo mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ launch attempt from Cape Canaveral, Florida was confirmed by SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk via twitter this morning.
The tentative Falcon 9 launch target was announced just three days after aerospace competitor Orbital ATK successfully launched their Cygnus cargo carrier on its own ‘Return to Flight’ mission on Dec. 6 following a launch failure in late October 2014. Cygnus just arrived at the ISS on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
Liftoff of the two stage SpaceX Falcon 9 – in a newly upgraded configuration – would take place in the early evening carrying a payload of eleven small commercial communications satellites for Orbcomm on the OG2 mission (see photos below).
But before SpaceX can attempt the Dec. 19 blastoff, the beefed up Falcon 9 rocket must first successfully pass through the hurtle of a static fire test at the Florida space coast launch pad on Dec. 16.
“Aiming for Falcon rocket static fire at Cape Canaveral on the 16th and launch about three days later,” Musk tweeted a short while ago.
The static fire test is a routine prelaunch check with a fully fueled Falcon 9 held down on the pad and conducted by SpaceX to confirm the readiness of the rocket and simulates a launch countdown.
The Falcon 9 rocket has been assembled. And the OG2 satellites have been integrated with the rocket, according to Orbcomm’s CEO.
“All satellites fully fueled and attached to the rings. Waiting on SpaceX to confirm launch date, tweeted Orbcomm CEO Marc Eisenberg yesterday.
At the moment its still unclear if SpaceX will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage by a propulsive soft landing on either a barge, as in two prior attempts, or on the ground at Cape Canaveral.
Blastoff of the Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is slated to occur between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Dec 19, Orbcomm confirmed in a statement today.
“The Falcon 9 will launch eleven next generation OG2 satellites as part of ORBCOMM’s second and final OG2 Mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.”
All SpaceX launches ground to an immediate halt this past summer when the commercial two stage Falcon 9 booster carrying a SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft heading to the ISS on a critical resupply mission for NASA was unexpectedly destroyed by an overpressure event 139 seconds after a picture perfect blastoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 28 at 10:21 a.m. EDT.
The cause of the in-flight breakup was traced to the failure of a critical support strut inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank holding a high pressure helium tank in the Falcon 9 rocket, as the likely cause, revealed SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk during a briefing for reporters on July 20.
At recent public forums, SpaceX managers have confirmed that a failure of the second stage strut is still the leading candidate for the launch mishap in June.
I can confirm that no Falcon 9 rocket was standing erect at pad 41 last week during my visit to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl for the ULA Atlas V blastoff of the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo freighter.
A NASA Space Station manager told Universe Today that the next SpaceX cargo Dragon could launch to the ISS in early January 2016 – if all goes well.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.