As Russia rushes to find out why its Progress craft crashed back to Earth, tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX hopes to return its Falcon 9 rocket to flight on Dec. 16, said Iridium Communications Inc, which plans to have 10 of its satellites on board for launching.
The launch is contingent on approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees U.S. commercial space transportation, Iridium said on Thursday.
‘We are looking forward to return to flight,’ SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement from Iridium.
On September 1, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket (pictured) exploded as it was being fueled for a routine pre-launch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Musk now says this was caused by a fueling system issue that created solid oxygen in the supper stage tank
Russia’s space agency says an unmanned cargo ship has crashed, 383 seconds after it blasted off en route to rendezvous with the International Space Station.
It came only hours after a keynote speech by Vladimir Putin to legislators in which he claimed Russia was successfully charting its way in the world despite Western sanctions.
The spacecraft, which was scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Saturday, was carrying rocket fuel and oxygen tanks, when it took off from the former Soviet cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
The spacecraft lost contact with control and an explosion was reported near Biysk, in Siberia, around the time the spacecraft vanished.
It is not clear if the spacecraft came down in the Tuva Republic, in Siberia, or came down in neighbouring Mongolia or even the Pacific Ocean.
SpaceX suspended flights after one of its rockets burst into flames on Sept. 1 as it was being fueled for a routine prelaunch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The company traced the explosion to a fueling system problem that caused a pressurized container of helium inside the rocket’s upper stage to burst.
The accident destroyed a $200 million satellite owned by Israel’s Space Communication Ltd.
‘We are confident that SpaceX understands its fueling process now and will do it successfully for our launch,’ Iridium spokeswoman Diane Hockenberry wrote in an email to Reuters.
Iridium’s satellites, however, will not be aboard the rocket during the prelaunch engine firing, she added.
SpaceX declined to comment about the status of its accident investigation or what measures it will take to ensure the problem will not reoccur.
The company uses extremely cold liquid propellants loaded just prior to blastoff to increase the rocket’s power so it can fly back to Earth and be reused.
A U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration advisory panel last month publicly questioned the safety of SpaceX’s fueling process, especially since the company has been hired to begin flying astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018.
The Sept. 1 accident was the second for SpaceX in 29 flights of the Falcon 9.
The company, owned and operated by Tesla Motors Inc Chief Executive Officer Musk, has a backlog of more than 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers, worth more than $10 billion.
SpaceX has not disclosed the extent of the damage at its primary launch site in Florida. The Iridium satellites will be launched from SpaceX’s California launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Iridium intends to replace its current mobile communications network with 81 new satellites made by Italy’s Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture of Thales SA and Leonardo Finmeccanica SpA under a contract worth $2.3 billion.
SpaceX is under contract to launch at least 70 of the satellites.
Last month, Elon Musk unveiled his most ambitious project yet – an ‘Interplanetary Transport System’ to take mankind to Mars in 80 days and build a sustainable human colony of a million people there.
‘What I want to achieve is make Mars seem possible, to show that we can do it in our lifetimes, and you could go,’ he said at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico.
However, he warned the trip was likely to be dangerous – and said candidates for the first missions ‘must be prepared to die’.
The Interplanetary Transport System will use a giant rocket booster with a 39 foot (12m) diameter and 49 engines, and a special shuttle with a 56 foot (17m) diameter, making the entire rocket stack 400 feet (122m) high.
They will launch with empty fuel tanks and refuel in orbit.
Once on Mars, they would make more methane fuel for the return journey.