SpaceX Launch Explosion Not Yet Resolved
This week’s big piece of SpaceX news has less to do with what happened, and more to do with what didn’t happen, at Elon Musk’s space venture; namely, another SpaceX launch in 2016.
CEO Elon Musk previously said that a SpaceX launch was coming in December 2016. Similar comments were made last week by SpaceX COO Genn Shotwell, but apparently new information emerged in recent days. No launches will take place until January 2017.
The delays will affect clients’ orders, many whom are already behind schedule. For instance, SpaceX has a contract to ferry 10 of Iridium Communications Inc‘s (NASDAQ:IRDM) satellites into orbit, but it seems that those missions will only begin next year. The reason for the delay is apparent to all. (Source: “SpaceX won’t try to launch a rocket again until next year,” Business Insider, December 7, 2016.)
SpaceX is still investigating an incident from early September, when one of its “Falcon 9” rockets exploded during a routine “static fire test.” Although the rocket was not in flight at the time, it was carrying a satellite that was supposed to bring free Internet to parts of Africa.
The philanthropic nature of the satellite—plus the fact that it belonged to Facebook Inc’s (NASDAQ:FB) Mark Zuckerberg—made it a big story. SpaceX’s earlier success at landing its first-stage booster rockets on sea and on land were forgotten. This is the only image people remembered:
NASA officials were perturbed by the launchpad disaster, especially because they plan to use the Falcon 9 to transport their astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Ever since the Space Shuttle was decommissioned, NASA astronauts have been hitching a ride on Russia’s “Soyuz.”
Coincidentally, one of these Russian rockets exploded this month while on a resupply mission to the ISS. However, it did not make front page news owing to its regrettable lack of celebrity tech titans involved. (Source: “Russian supply ship headed for the Space Station burns up in the atmosphere,” The Verge, December 1, 2016.)
Elon Musk has maintained a strong level of transparency throughout this ordeal. He organized a full-scale investigation and suspended all planned flights, calling the explosion “the most difficult and complex failure” in the company’s history.
Although one client switched an upcoming launch to the European Space Agency (ESA), SpaceX still has an oversubscribed manifest. It is in good stead to resume launches next year, not to mention to lower the cost of space travel through reusable rockets.
Here’s the full statement from SpaceX.