Two months after a fueling failure caused a SpaceX rocket to burst into flames, the space launch company says it hopes its resume its launches as early as next month. In an interview with CNBC Friday, chief executive Elon Musk said the company had learned the reason for the explosion and that SpaceX rockets could return to flight by mid-December. "I think we've gotten to the bottom of the problem," Mr. Musk said. Investigators reportedly determined that the failure was caused by a fueling system malfunction that produced solid oxygen inside the rocket's upper stage tank, causing a reaction with a carbon composite bottle containing liquid helium that sits inside the oxygen tank, resulting in an explosion. The Sept. 1 explosion raised the question of whether the private space company, which aims to send colonists to Mars by 2024, has been pushing the boundaries of space exploration a little too hard.
The Heavy was pulled upright on launchpad 39A, the site of launches during the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs, for the test the second week of January. Reporters and other observers clung to computer screens and waited. A six-hour window for the static-fire test that opened that week came and went, and the test was rescheduled again and again, until this Wednesday. For a few stressful days, it looked like the federal government threatened to delay the test for days or even weeks.
After a disastrous launchpad explosion last September, SpaceX is back with a bang (the good kind) now that it successfully launched a rocket on Saturday and returned a section of it back to a safe landing. What's more, the company has published a dramatic photograph showing the landing that's garnering plenty of attention. After lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Falcon 9 rocket's two sections separated, and then the upper section succeeded in delivering its payload of 10 Iridium communications satellites into orbit. That's a good thing, because the last time SpaceX tried to launch a rocket, it exploded while being fueled, destroying a pricy satellite in the process. As a bonus, the first section of the satellite descended back to Earth as planned, sticking a landing on a droneship called "Just Read the Instructions" that was off the coast of California.
At 6:27pm EDT today, SpaceX will be launching a Falcon 9 rocket, carrying an SES-10 satellite will launch from SpaceX's pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida. But the rocket carrying the satellite isn't just any rocket - it's the same rocket that SpaceX successfully launched in April 2016 and then landed again on one of its drone ships. If successful, this will mark the first time that a private company has successfully sent a payload into orbit using the same rocket twice. The ability to reuse its rockets has been a long-term goal of SpaceX. By reusing its rockets, the company estimates it could reduce its launch costs by 50% or even more.