On the morning of September 1, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket dramatically exploded on the launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center — but the U.S. space agency says the massive fireball didn’t throw it off its OSIRIS-REx game.
NASA held a pair of briefings Tuesday afternoon to go over details behind the upcoming launch of the OSIRIS-REx mission. Featuring members of the launch team and the science team, the briefings largely reiterated much of what has been previously discussed in our coverage of the seven-year mission tasked with retrieving a sample from a near-Earth asteroid. But most importantly, perhaps, the team addressed the recent, er, incident on SpaceX’s launch pad.
In response to a question about how last week’s SpaceX explosion at Kennedy Space Center has affected the launch of OSIRIS-REx, Tim Dunn, the launch manager at KSC, acknowledged that the explosion was yet another affirmation of the kinds of risky operations space exploration is all about. But he was adamant that SpaceX’s accident would not affect OSIRIS-REx — or really, any other major NASA mission moving forward in the short-term future.
Dunn emphasized that he and his team were in a unique position to take a look at proprietary data private companies like SpaceX would otherwise keep secret and keep safe. While the investigation behind what caused the blaze that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and consumed the AMOS-6 satellite (important to Facebook) is still ongoing, Dunn sounded assured that it was moving forward well — and even surer that OSIRIS-REx would be fine come Thursday.
“There is no elevated risk to OSIRIS launching on [an] Atlas V [rocket],” he told briefing attendees.
Those sentiments were shared by Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson. Lauretta mentioned that NASA had already successfully launched 12 missions using Atlas V rockets, and that OSIRIS-REx would be the 13th. He called the SpaceX explosion “a stark reminder of the risks attached to this business,” but said in no ambitious terms: “I’m absolutely not nervous” about neither the launch nor the mission itself.
Given NASA’s cancellation of a media tour through KSC regarding the Commercial Crew Program, one has to imagine at least a few others at NASA may not completely share his sentiments.