On September 1st, the Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the Launchpad only moments before taking to air. In the process, a $200 million Iridium Communications satellite was also blown to pieces. Since then, the SpaceX engineers have identified the problem and are confident that the next lift off is going to be successful.
According to a team of investigators, the rocket exploded due to an unplanned interaction between the carbon-composite helium container and oxygen in the upper stage of the unit.
“Iridium NEXT will be launching on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on December 16th, 2016 at 12:36 p.m. PST [2036 GMT]”, say Iridium Communications Inc. officials.
However, the decision to approve the future liftoff falls in the hands of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administrations. If everything goes according to plan, the Falcon 9 rocket will place the first ten of the 70 Iridium NEXT satellites into low orbit in mid-December. The rocket will launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Currently, Iridium Communications has a constellation of 66 satellites orbiting the Earth, operating in low orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket is supposed to deliver 70 satellites into the orbit to replace Iridium’s old network with the NEXT constellation.
However, the explosion of the Falcon 9 rocket is not the first time one of the SpaceX’s units blow up during liftoff procedures. In June 2015, another Falcon 9 exploded only three minutes after successfully taking to air. The incident occurred in Florida at Canaveral Air Force Station. Nevertheless, there were no casualties, as the rocket didn’t feature human personnel. In that case, it took the Falcon 9 almost half a year before it could safely return to flight again. On December 22nd, 2015, an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 managed to place 11 Orbcomm satellites into the orbit.
By early 2018, Iridium Communications and SpaceX aim to deliver no less than 70 communications satellites into the orbit. The two companies have been partners for almost a decade, working together in an effort to replace the largest commercial network of low-orbiting communication satellites. The launch that will deliver the 70 satellites into the orbit will consist of seven Falcon 9 rockets, each one equipped with ten Iridium satellites. After the initial lift off, the rockets will proceed to take off one by one, ultimately delivering all the units into the Earth’s low orbit.
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