Here's Why SpaceX's Next Mission Isn't Until August

The East Coast launch pads are closed for important repairs.

Getty Images / Joe Raedle

SpaceX has an incredibly ambitious schedule planned for the rest of 2017, but until August 10, Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company is doing … well, pretty much nothing.

All right, that’s a little unfair. SpaceX’s daily activities include refining the reusable Dragon 2 capsule and refurbishing its two Florida launch pads at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station before the Falcon Heavy’s planned debut launch later this summer. But the company won’t be launching any rockets at all until August 10, when a resupply mission launches for the ISS, because Kennedy and Cape Canaveral are closed for repairs until August 3.

The maintenance period is doubly important for the company. A spokesperson for SpaceX told Inverse that the company is using the downtime to continue to upgrade the Kennedy Space Center’s SLC-39A launchpad for the Falcon Heavy, as well as repairing Cape Canaveral’s SLC-40 launchpad to run standard Falcon 9 missions. SLC-40 is still out of commission from the catastrophic failure in September when a Falcon 9 bound for orbit burned up on the pad. Getting SLC-40 back online is a major key for the company’s operations in the closing months of 2017, as it wants to shift all its standard Falcon 9 launches on the East Coast back to the original pad. SLC-39A will then become the headquarters for Falcon Heavy launches, as it’s the only pad that currently has the right equipment for the much larger launch system.

Chris Gebhardt at broke down the construction at SLC-39A and SLC-40 back in April, but we hadn’t really had an update on how things were going. SpaceX told Inverse that its teams had finished inspections on SLC-40 later this year and are still working on repairing the pad during the range downtime, specifically mentioning that it was using the lessons it learned from refurbishing SLC-39A to refine SLC-40.

Gebhardt’s report from April notes that after SLC-40 comes back online, SLC-39A will have to shut down for 60 days to make some final upgrades (specifically, new Tail Service Masts to attach to the Falcon Heavy’s boosters). SpaceX didn’t comment on when that period would start, or give an approximate date for when SLC-40 would be up and running.

Inverse reached out to the Air Force command at CCAFS to ask what other routine maintenance was going on over the next few weeks, and we’ll add that in if they get back to us, as well. Until then, space watchers will just have to wait and see, at least until the beginning of August.

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