SpaceX, Still Off-Kilter After the September Explosion, Delays All Upcoming Launches
The Falcon 9 blew up in September, and SpaceX still hasn't quite worked out what the problem was.
SpaceX had a rocket blow up on the launchpad back in September, but the commercial spaceflight company's officials weren't going to let that explosion throw off their game. The planned rocket launch in December was still going to move forward, the company claimed.
But now plans have been changed.
SpaceX recently announced that the company will not, in fact, be launching this week because it's still unclear what actually caused the Falcon 9 to explode on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, during preparations for a static-fire test on September 1.
Instead, SpaceX nixed its planned Friday launch, delaying it until early January so engineers could ensure the “highest level of mission assurance prior to launch.”
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On top of that, on Monday the company delayed plans for the first manned NASA launch as well, saying that the Dragon capsule wouldn't be able to launch until 2018 because of refueling issues raised by the September explosion.
SpaceX has moved back its entire schedule for the manned NASA launch. The uncrewed test, originally slated for May 2017, will take place in November 2017. The crewed flight, initially planned to launch in August 2017, will not happen until May 2018, according to NASA's revised schedule.
SpaceX's delays come just two months after Boeing also pushed back its testing schedule by six months for the CST-100 Starliner. The craft will now be tested without a crew in June 2018 and then with a crew in August 2018.
And here's the catch: These delays on the commercial side of spaceflight are a big deal because NASA is working on a tight schedule. Despite the increasing emphasis on commercial space flight, right now, NASA astronauts have to rely on Russian Soyuz flights to get to the International Space Station (the only place astronauts are currently going). The contract with Russia expires at the end of 2018, and the testing delays mean NASA will have a very small window of time to sign off on the new capsules if it wants to make sure that astronauts continue to have a way to get to the ISS.
It's too late to sign another deal with Soyuz, so if something, anything, goes wrong — and this is spaceflight, after all — then NASA will be left once again with some astronauts ready to head to outer space, and no way to get them there.
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