Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX and headed by billionaire Elon Musk, plans to resume launching the Falcon 9 rocket in December, six months after one of the boosters exploded on a mission to resupply the International Space Station.
The company and its customers SES and Orbcomm agreed to launch a payload of several Orbcomm-2 satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket in the next six to eight weeks, SpaceX said in a statement released on Friday.
Here’s the text of the statement:
“As we prepare for return to flight, SpaceX together with its customers SES and Orbcomm have evaluated opportunities to optimize the readiness of the upcoming Falcon 9 return-to-flight mission. All parties have mutually agreed that SpaceX will now fly the Orbcomm-2 mission on the return-to-flight Falcon 9 vehicle.
The Orbcomm-2 mission does not require a relight of the second stage engine following orbital insertion. Flying the Orbcomm-2 mission first will therefore allow SpaceX to conduct an on-orbit test of the second stage relight system after the Orbcomm-2 satellites have been safely deployed. This on-orbit test, combined with the current qualification program to be completed prior to launch, will further validate the second stage relight system and allow for optimization of the upcoming SES-9 mission and following missions to geosynchronous transfer orbit.
This change does not affect the timeline for SpaceX’s return-to-flight mission which is still targeted to take place in the next 6-8 weeks. The SES-9 launch is currently targeted for late December 2015.”
The Falcon 9 is the same type of rocket that exploded in June two minutes after lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a NASA mission to resupply the International Space Station. Musk blamed the incident on a faulty strut and pledged to more closely monitor the company’s supply chain.
A previous Falcon 9 flight in 2012 also caused the loss of a prototype Orbcomm satellite. One of the rocket’s nine engines lost pressure and shut down, preventing the satellite flying as a secondary payload from reaching its intended orbit. Because SpaceX was prevented by rules put in place with NASA to move the spacecraft to a higher orbit (and thus closer to the space station), the satellite ultimately reentered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up.
SpaceX plans to compete against United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., on an upcoming competition to launch a GPS III satellite as part of the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, program. SpaceX has long wanted to crack into the military launch market, which is estimated to cost $70 billion through 2030.