Elon Musk announces December 19 launch date for next Falcon 9 rocket
SpaceX is heading back into orbit with founder and CEO Elon Musk announcing that a Falcon 9 rocket launch is scheduled for December 19. The improved version of the rocket is set to lift off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and will carry 11 Orbcomm OG-2 communication satellites into low Earth orbit. This marks the first flight of the Falcon 9 since the June 28 mid-air explosion of the CRS-7 mission shortly after launch.
Musk made the announcement on Twitter, saying the SpaceX team is aiming for a rocket static fire at Cape Canaveral on the 16th, which would be followed by a launch around three days later. A static firing is a standard test to determine the fitness of a rocket system for launch. SpaceX recently moved much of its assembly and testing work for the Falcon 9 to Canaveral for improved logistical support.
The failure of the previous launch of the Falcon 9 was eventually traced to a substandard strut holding a helium bottle in place inside a liquid oxygen tank in the rocket's second stage. Under the stress of lift off, the tank broke loose and caused a valve to stick open. This overpressurized the oxygen bottle and led to the destruction of the rocket and the loss of the unmanned Dragon cargo ship.
One question that still remains about the upcoming launch is how it will end. Initially, the plan was for a test re-ignition of the improved second stage while the first stage fell back to Earth. However, at a recent press conference a NASA spokeswoman confirmed that SpaceX has applied to attempt a powered landing of the first stage at Cape Canaveral. Whether this happens during this mission remains in question because this will require approval of the US Air Force's 45th Space Wing, which has not yet been received.