SpaceX has plans to resume its Falcon 9 flights on January 8 with the first launch likely to put 10 Iridium Communications satellites into orbit, the company revealed in a press statement yesterday.
Falcon 9 has been downed ever since one of the rockets burst into flames on a launch pad on September 1 while it was being fueled for a routine pre-launch test in Florida. Investigation has been carried out and according to the company, they expect to be cleared for a launch on January 8 after four months of hiatus. The destruction of the rocket was a huge blow for the company not only in terms of money, but also precious time that is always running against it with a hefty backlog of more than 70 satellite launches valued at a whopping $10 billion. The explosion destroyed the $62 million Falcon 9 rocket and a $200 million communications satellite.
In the statement SpaceX also revealed the cause of the explosion. The company said that investigations have concluded that a canister of helium inside the rocket’s upper-stage oxygen tank had exploded. Post the investigation outcome, the company plans to revamp its fueling procedures so that the super-cold liquid oxygen will not build up between the helium tank’s liner and its outer covering, it added. SpaceX said accumulation of oxygen in a void or buckle in the liner most likely led to the explosion.
“In the long term, SpaceX will implement design changes to the (helium canisters) to prevent buckles altogether,” the statement said.
The company did not say when new helium canisters would be ready to fly, but that using warmer temperature helium and a slower fueling operation will prevent them from bursting.
Iridium is pleased with the announcement and hopes that the launch timeline is met.
SpaceX has not said how much damage the September 1 accident did to its primary Florida launch pad, nor when a new second pad in Florida, located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, will be put into service.