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SpaceX to launch 1st Falcon 9 since explosion

After a SpaceX Falcon 9 exploded en route to the International Space Station in June, there were doubts about the future of the Falcon 9.1 Well doubt no more. On Thursday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed that the company will be launching the Falcon somewhere around the 19th of December.

9 SpaceX to launch 1st Falcon 9 since explosion

In October, SpaceX and ORBCOMM – a communications satellite manufacturer – announced that “Falcon’s return-to-flight mission would place 11 ORBCOMM OG2 data relay satellites in orbit.”2 This launch vehicle will not be the same old Falcon 9, however. SpaceX has made significant upgrades to the vehicle since the June explosion:

During Falcon’s post-accident downtime, SpaceX engineers completed a variety of upgrades to the rocket, including adding a denser propellant mixture to the first stage, which increases the vehicle’s thrust. SpaceX test-fired the ORBCOMM mission’s booster rocket at their McGregor, Texas development facility September 21.3

Adding to the excitement, Florida Today reported, back on December 1, that SpaceX was exploring the possibility of landing the Falcon 9 booster at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.4 The company has attempted to land the Falcon booster several times, with no success. However, each of the previous attempts have  attempted to land the booster on a barge in the middle of the ocean.5

  1. Jason Davis, Planetary Society Blog, “Broken Bottle Strut Likely Doomed Falcon 9 Rocket, Says Elon Musk,” 20 July 2015  
  2. Jason Davis, Planetary Society Blog, “SpaceX, Partners Prepare for Falcon Return-to-Flight,” 8 December 2015  
  3. Ibid  
  4. James Dean, Florida Today, “SpaceX wants to land next booster at Cape Canaveral,” 1 December 2015  
  5. Just as a note, landing the Falcon 9 booster is a significantly greater challenge than Blue Origin’s recent landing of a booster. Blue Origin – founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – has a different set of motives and goals than SpaceX: rather than focusing on governmental and scientific launches, Blue Origin is aimed at providing individuals with a chance to go in space, or very near space. All of SpaceX’s attempts to land the Falcon booster came on orbital flights; Blue Origin’s landing came on a sub-orbital flight. Orbital flights require significantly higher velocities than sub-orbital flights. Meaning, the booster stage from orbital flights will be traveling at much higher speeds than those of sub-orbital flights, requiring much more thrust to slow them to a landing speed.