Following a four month investigation into the September 1st anomaly that resulted in the lose of a Falcon 9 rocket with it’s payload the Spacecom Amos 6 satellite and significant damage to Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX announced this week that they have completed the investigate (see report here) and are ready to return to flight operations started on Sunday 8th January with the first of seven launches for Iridium.
SpaceX are able to resume flight operations without having to make design changes to the rocket by changing their propellant loading operation to avoid the scenario that most likely caused the anomaly. They have indicated that longer term they will make design changes to the COPV tanks to resolve the issue which will allow them to resume faster loading operations.
The flight of the Falcon 9 with ten Iridium Next satellites is currently scheduled for 10:28:97 PST on Sunday 8th January from Space Launch Complex 4E in Vandenberg, CA. However this is still subject to the results of the Static Fire test scheduled for Tuesday 3rd and flight readiness review.
It has been 9 weeks since the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch failure, and with the exception of one update from Elon Musk on 20th July we have not heard anything further on the return to flight of the Falcon 9.
The initial investigation found that a strut in the second stage oxygen tank failed at 1/5 the load it was designed to withstand resulting in the helium bottle used to pressurize the tank dislodging and catastrophically damaging the tank, this lead to the explosion and failure of the mission. During the announcement into the failure it became clear that this part had not been tested internally by SpaceX before the accident, subsequent tests showed that other samples of the strut also failed below their designed limits.
It became clear very quickly after the accident that Dragon had survived the initial explosion and was seen flying away from the exploding rocket. This was confirmed by Elon and they continued to receive telemetry from Dragon until if dropped beyond the horizon. Unfortunately the vehicle was lost when it crashed into the ocean.
During the initial report Elon announced several changes that would be coming for future flights which are expected to resume in September.
- SpaceX will no longer use these particular structs within the vehicle – It is our understanding that this part is useful throughout the vehicle so this change itself will be quite significant, as they already have cores built we also don’t know how much work it will be to modify those.
- SpaceX will implement additional hardware quality audits throughout the vehicle – This will add additional time to the build process and therefore additional cost, some of which may be passed on to customers, although Elon indicated that may not be the case.
- SpaceX will update the Dragon software to allow deployment on chutes in case of future failures – Elon indicated that this this was just a software change, if so that would be a relatively easy change as deployment is already build in for return.
So the question now is when will the flights resume and what will be the first payload to be flown?
Update: We have seen several comments that indicate that RTF could be November or even end of year. With no news from SpaceX it is hard to dispute or verify these statements. For now we are sticking with a September RTF pending further official information from SpaceX.
Update 8/31: It would appear from comments by SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell that RTF is still a couple of months away (see tweets below)
Shotwell also announced that RTF will also be the first flight of the more powerful Merlin engines
Update 9/1: Further news today regarding SpaceX missions later this year, the CRS-8 mission to ISS is now scheduled to fly 9/15 according to the post below. The mission will still carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module in the trunk.