If all goes well, the SpaceX return to flight is planned for the 16th of this month. As reported by the Seattle Times, the company is only awaiting final approval from the federal government to proceed with the launch. This particular launch is a major one for the company —even aside from the implications of returning to flight following the previous explosion — since it will involve the launch of 10 satellites at one time.
Elon Musk and SpaceX
Elon Musk and SpaceX have literally become modern legends in America. Musk and his company supposedly represent the kind of “can do” spirit that used to typify American business and industry. So the catastrophic explosion of his last rocket came as a shock to many of his fans.
At the same time, Musk had himself suggested that there would be failures and setbacks along the way to his big dreams. Those dreams include slashing the price of placing people and materials into orbit and — wait for it — building a self-sustaining colony on the surface of Mars.
Despite this massive blow, Musk seems undeterred in his quest to make the human race a multi-planet species. In fact, only last month, he presented his plans for a huge interplanetary spacecraft that could take 100 people to Mars at a time. Musk still wants to put the first humans on Mars in the next decade.
The Explosion Impact
Obviously, the impact of the explosion/fire that took place during SpaceX’s last attempted launch was devastating for the company, even as it provided a boost for Elon Musk’s principle competitors. SpaceX has spent months poring over the data obtained from the accident.
As CNN notes, they were at a loss to explain exactly what happened. In part, this was a result of the fact that many of the recording instruments that would have normally provided data were not on because the rocket had not actually been ignited.
Eventually, they determined that the rocket itself was not to blame. Instead, the process by which they cooled, stored, and loaded the super cooled fuel was the culprit. It got so cold that it —more or less — clogged the system and created a fire that immediately became an explosion.
The SpaceX Return
According to Iridium — the company that owns the satellites being launched — they are confident that SpaceX is once again ready to carry cargo and equipment into space. Iridium CEO Matt Desch put it in a statement.
“We have remained confident in SpaceX’s ability as a launch partner throughout the Falcon 9 investigation…We are grateful for their transparency and hard work to plan for their return to flight.”
Assuming the FAA approves Musk’s plans for a return to flight, the rocket will launch with its 10 satellite load from Vandenberg Air Force base in California on the 16th. It’s currently unknown whether the rocket being used in this instance will be one of the ones SpaceX was planning to refurbish. It seems unlikely given the significance of this flight.
In all probability, SpaceX will almost certainly attempt to land the rocket on one of the two drone barges it uses for rocket recovery after launch. When launching satellites into high earth orbit, the rocket has to use so much of its onboard fuel that returning to the launch site is not always possible.
In these instances, the rocket lands along the path of its flight into space, since this uses far less fuel as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere. The SpaceX return to space is probably going to go fairly smoothly and uneventfully, since — despite the last incident — the company has an excellent record overall.
[Featured Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images]