SpaceX is still reeling from its September 1 launch pad explosion, which irretrievably damaged a Falcon 9 rocket and consumed a very important Facebook-sponsored satellite — all because of what was likely an issue in loading cryogenic helium into the booster’s upper stage liquid oxygen tank. The company is determined to launch rockets again before the end of the year, but there hasn’t been much clue as to whether it was making any real progress.
Well, we finally have some encouraging news. On Sunday, someone posted to reddit a slew of images and a short video of a Falcon 9 rocket on Interstate 10 in Arizona, presumably en route from SpaceX’s testing grounds in McGregor, Texas, to Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. This is almost certainly the booster that will be used to launch 10 satellites owned and operated by Virginia-based communications company Iridium.
Later that same day, Iridium’s chief executive, Matt Desch, added some confirmation for what was already becoming a hot post on Reddit, tweeting out: “Stage 1 arriving in California for our launch. Soon, very soon.”
Let’s not jump the gun here: it’s still not certain Iridium’s payload will be the one fired off into space come December. The website Spaceflight101 lists EchoStar Corporation’s communication satellite, EchoStar 23, as the next SpaceX launch, slated for December 18 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Of course, it’s unclear exactly will launch will mark SpaceX’s comeback. Officially, SpaceX has not put down any definite dates for returning to flight. The EchoStar may be the one to move forward, or it might be the Iridium mission. Nobody knows.
Furthermore, if Elon Musk and his team are really able to begin launches again before the end of 2016, they would have successfully engineered a startling turnaround. The 2015 accident set the company back by six months. Although the September explosion was on the ground, it certainly shook up confidence in the company’s ability to guarantee safety to its customer’s payloads. The next month will be a jittery time for the entire spaceflight industry, with all eyes on SpaceX.