The highly anticipated launch of a new Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX was delayed recently due to concerns about the weather at the launch site, Vandenberg Air Force base. The launch had been slated for January 8th ever since the FAA gave the go-ahead for launch after SpaceX completed its investigation into a launch pad explosion of the last Falcon 9 launch attempt last September. News of the delay was announced in tweets from Iridium, the company whose NEXT satellites are on board the new rocket, and SpaceX. The launch is now scheduled for January 14th at 9:54:34 Pacific Time, with a backup date of January 15th.
Iridium originally announced a December launch date, but it was contingent on the completion of the investigation into last year’s explosion. SpaceX was able to release their findings on January 2nd, in which they revealed the cause of the explosion to be oxygen trapped in small pockets between layers of the liquid oxygen tank system. The company claims that adjustments made to the way helium (used to maintain pressure in the tanks) is loaded will prevent any further problems. Possible future design changes are also mentioned as a long-term fix, but the company is confident that returning to the same helium loading methods that had been used on numerous previous launches is an adequate measure.
The FAA reportedly accepted SpaceX’s conclusions and cleared the Falcon 9 for launch. Both Iridium and SpaceX are likely avoiding all potential risks on this next launch as to avoid another loss of more than $100 million in equipment. A successful launch of the Falcon 9 would put the private space-faring industry back on solid footing after The Spaceship Company had successful flights late last year of its SpaceShipTwo—a big turnaround following their 2014 disaster that was fatal for the pilot, Mike Alsbury.
The upcoming Falcon 9 launch is the first of seven launches the two companies have planned. Each launch will place ten Iridium NEXT satellites in orbit to replace an existing low-earth orbit satellite network. The final satellite array will consist of 81 satellites, some of which may be placed into orbit with companies other than SpaceX.