SpaceX Ready to Send Ten Satellites into Orbit Via Falcon 9 on Saturday
Although SpaceX has recovered from the sudden fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket while it was sitting on the launch pad awaiting a routine engine check on September 9th, rain, winds, and a scheduling conflict at the launch site the company uses at Vandenberg Air Force Base have delayed until at least Saturday the launch of a Falcon 9 that will bring ten Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.
It is not yet certain that weather will permit a Saturday launch, as this week California is enduring the most severe winter weather it has had in at least a decade, during which severe drought plagued the State.
The launch delay was announced via Twitter: "Launch moving due to high winds and rain at Vandenberg." The Twitter post went on to iterate that even were the winds and rain to subside significantly enough to allow a launch, the launch site had previously been scheduled for other uses so the Falcon 9 launch could not take place before Saturday, January 12th.
SpaceX founder and owner Elon Musk announced on January 5th that the new Falcon 9 had passed a standard, company-required test firing with the engine static, performed on the launch pad. This test firing is done before every Falcon 9 launch as a SpaceX self-examination procedure.
The following day, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a launch license for the Falcon 9.
It has taken SpaceX more than four months to get back on a launch schedule following the September 1st explosion and fire that destroyed an Israeli-made commercial communications satellite, the Amos-6, while it was set to undergo a routine pre-flight check at Cape Canaveral.
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On January 1st this year, the company announced the findings in its investigation into the incident of September 1st. It concluded that the explosion and subsequent fire were caused by the buckling of the aluminum liner that protects the composite overwrapped helium tank inside the rocket's upper stage liquid oxygen tank.
The Falcon 9 gets its power from burning a combination of liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel. Oxygen becomes liquid at -183â° Celsius and is highly flammable and burns efficiently.
SpaceX said that the buckling, while not a complete rupture or collapse, was sufficiently severe that it allowed liquid oxygen propellant to gather in a pool between the aluminum liner and the carbon overwrap covering. As pressure built up in the pool of liquid oxygen propellant, it generated enough heat to cause the highly combustible liquid to ignite, causing the explosion as the helium tank tore open, and the fire that destroyed the rocket.
The company has modified the process by which helium is loaded onto the rocket to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
The Falcon 9 is the most powerful rocket launched in the United States since the Saturn V rockets were retired 45 years ago, in 1972. The load of the Falcon 9 is actually two and a half times weaker than the load capability of the Saturn V indicating the lesser uplift needs of the aerospace industry.