Friday, January 6, 2017

SpaceX Returns To Flight

Update January 8, 2017: Given the massive winter rain storm looming in Southern California's forecast, it's not surprising that SpaceX's Iridium-1 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base has been  postponed to Saturday, January 14, 2017, at 9:54 a.m. PST (6:54 a.m. EST; 18:54 CET). Launch details below.

Following completion of a successful static-fire test yesterday, Iridium Corporation announced that it will target Monday, January 9, 2017 to launch the first ten of its Iridium Next satellites into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Southern California's Vandenberg Airforce Base. Launch time is set for 10:22 a.m. PST (1:22 p.m. EST; 19:22 CET).

Iridium has contracted with SpaceX to deliver its second generation global satellite constellation into orbit, over the course of seven missions, including the current one. The new 3-billion-dollar satellite array will replace Iridium's existing satellite network dating to the 1990s and 2000s and provide satellite and cell phone services.

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration also accepted Space X's accident report on last September's on-pad explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket and its payload during a pre-launch static fire test. SpaceX traced the failure to one of three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs). More info here.

Thursday's test fire of the rocket that will launch Iridium's satellites was performed without the payload atop the rocket. It will be installed at Vandenberg over the weekend for a Monday morning launch window.

This mission will include a landing attempt of the rocket's first stage on a barge in the Pacific downrange from VAFB. If you are anywhere in Southern California with an unobstructed ocean view at launch time, you may well be able to see the launch and perhaps the burns by the returning rocket as it maneuvers itself to touch down on an ocean-going barge. The weather, however, may not cooperate. Southern California is expecting a winter storm with potentially heavy rain that is forecast to linger through Monday. Still, it's great news to know that SpaceX is back on track and back on the pad, preparing to return to flight.