SpaceX had planned to launch its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on Monday, taking a huge commercial satellite into space. However due to a technical problem just four minutes before ignition, the launch was cancelled and re-scheduled for three days later.
This mission should have marked a number of important milestones for the private spaceflight company. It should have been the first time it transported a commercial satellite, the SES-8 satellite for the communications satellite company SES. It should have also been the first time it entered a high geostationary transfer orbit, which is necessary for commercial satellites.
Martin Halliwell, SES chief technology officer, emphasized last week what this mission means for SpaceX when he said: “Let me put this very, very clearly, the entry of SpaceX into the commercial market is a game-changer. It’s going to really shake the industry to its roots.”
He went on to say that following an extraordinary level of access to SpaceX’s work on Falcon 9, the company felt confident in allowing the upgraded rocket to transport the 3.2-ton satellite into orbit.
Falcon 9 Version 1.1 took the CASSIOPE space weather monitoring satellite into orbit on September 29 last year. Although the mission was a success, the rocket’s second stage restart capability failed when tested, due to a frozen igniter fliud line. As a result SpaceX added more insulation to the fliud line, so preventing this from occuring during Monday’s launch.
We’ve done everything we can think of to maximize the reliability of this launch system,” SpaceX’s billionaire founder Elon Musk told reporters before the launch. “We’re really happy with this rocket design and it’s an incredibly capable vehicle.”
Musk said that the Falcon 9 rocket was designed to be the most affordable and reliable option when compaed with other commercial rocket launch vehicles.
“I believe its inherent reliability potential is better than any other rocket in the world,” Musk said. “And it is up to us to live up to that potential.”
Ok so following Monday’s hiccup, perhaps the rocket isn’t quite as reliable as Musk thought but so far the exact problem of why the rocket couldn’t be launched is not clear.
The 224-foot-tall Falcon 9 has only flown once before in its current configuration and Musk tweeted on Twitter that it was the company’s “toughest mission to date”.
Musk said the launch business is nerve-racking: “There are a thousand ways for it to go wrong, and one way for it to go right.”
If SpaceX are serious about entering the commercial satellite business, then it will have to demonstrate that the new version of the Falcon 9 is reliable. Let’s hope it can launch on Thursday and achieve those milestones.