SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rockets have been grounded since the still unexplained launch pad explosion of one of the rockets at Cape Canaveral on September 1, but they could be back in the air soon.
Company president Gwynne Shotwell said earlier this week at the World Satellite Business Week Conference in Paris that SpaceX hopes to resume launches in November. Such a launch still depends on figuring out just why the rocket exploded during routine fueling two days before the launch, a puzzle that has so far confounded investigators and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
When a Falcon 9 rocket does next launch, it won’t blast off from the same pad on which its predecessor exploded. That was Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 40, which was the site of 25 of the 29 Falcon 9 rockets — all but the last of which were successful — and previously the launch site of the Titan III and Titan IV rockets, which carried probes like Voyager, Viking, and Cassini into orbit. But now SpaceX will use the other launch complex at Cape Canaveral: Launch Complex 39, previously home to the Apollo missions and the space shuttles. The circumstances aren’t great — a $250 million worth of tech exploding for no clear reason never is, although at least it isn’t affecting company insurance rates — but that’s a nice bit of symbolism as SpaceX continues moving from unmanned to crewed space missions over the next few years.
SpaceX signed a 20-year lease in 2014 to use NASA’s Launch Pad 39A, which has seen extensive overhaul over the last couple years in preparation for the company’s smaller rockets. When the first Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from there, it will join Launch Complex 40 and the pad at California’s Vandenburg Air Force Base as SpaceX’s three launch sites. While there are no immediate plans to return to Launch Complex 40, Shotwell said both of the other sites will be used as SpaceX looks to get back on schedule — again, assuming the company can solve the mystery of the explosion.Photos via Getty Images / NASA