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‘Life or death’ for SpaceX

‘Life or death’ makes a dramatic headline, but that’s the comment from one observer as to anxieties over rocket company SpaceX returning to flight anytime soon. The worries are that a nine-to-12 month delay in returning to its launch tasks could wipe out the business.

September 1st saw a SpaceX rocket suffer an on-ground ‘anomaly’ as it was being tested prior to launching a Spacecom satellite (Amos-6) and explode spectacularly in a blazing fireball.

Last week, SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell explain in a very relaxed manner that she was confident that the Elon Musk-owned venture would be returning to normal flight operations during November.

Somewhat controversially, the United Launch Alliance’s CEO Tory Bruno, speaking a week ago, talked of SpaceX being grounded for between nine and 12 months. The Alliance is a j-v between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, two giant names in the rocket business and a regular contractor to the US military.

Arianespace’s CEO made similar noises at last week’s Euroconsult Space Business Week summit, stressing how its Ariane 5 rockets had enjoyed a winning streak of 73 successful flights, and also saying that the French Guiana-based rocket facility had been inundated with enquiries as to available launch slots over the next two years.

The delays to SpaceX – and the consequential further delays to a long list of clients which are booked onto future launches – is already a worry. If SpaceX cannot clearly identify the root cause of the conflagration, then there will be worries over future launches. Indeed, it’s highly unlikely that future launches would get insurance cover if the cause isn’t clearly defined.

Then, assuming a fault is identified, it will have to be remedied.

There’s also on-going repair work to Launch Complex 40 (and its supporting metal structure), as well as preparation on the adjacent Launch Complex 39A which was always destined to handle Falcon ‘Heavy’ launches, and not those of the Falcon 9 craft.

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