SpaceX to attempt first launch since Falcon 9 explosion

Launch will be the crucial test of whether engineers have understood the cause of the blast enough to correct it

Space insiders will be watching events in California carefully on Saturday. If all goes well, SpaceX will attempt its first launch since the explosion of 1 September 2016, which grounded its rocket fleet.

The accident destroyed not only the Falcon 9 rocket but also its payload, the Amos 6 communications satellite. It inflicted considerable damage on one of Cape Canaveral’s launch pads too.

This weekend’s launch will take place from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and carry 10 small communications satellites into orbit for the company Iridium. They are part of a constellation know as Iridium Next that will replace the company’s existing satellites, which were launched over a five-year period starting in 1997.

The new satellites have been designed in France and built in the US by Thales Alenia Space and Orbital ATK at a cost of $3bn.
The Iridium constellation uses six orbital planes to circle the world and provide voice and data relay services. In total, 66 new satellites will be launched across seven launches that Iridium has contracted SpaceX to provide.

SpaceX has traced its September explosion to a tank of helium in the rocket’s second stage that split during an engine trial. Saturday’s launch will be the crucial test of whether SpaceX engineers have understood the problem enough to correct it.

The launch window is just one second long. Either the rocket launches at 17:54:34 GMT or the attempt is scrubbed for the day. The launch window then occurs about five minutes earlier the next day.


Contributor

Stuart Clark

The GuardianTramp

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