After hitting a major setback in early September, aerospace company SpaceX is planning to recover from its losses and immediately resume its rocket launches in November, reports reveal.
On Sept. 1, a hopeful launch turned sour as the company's Falcon 9 rocket abruptly exploded during preparations for a test fire at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Because of the incident, space services have been temporarily suspended while scientists investigate why the rocket burst into flames.
Elon Musk, the CEO and founder of SpaceX, has said that the incident was a "fast fire," not an explosion. But eyewitness accounts say the blast turned the 230-foot Falcon 9 rocket into a "bowl of fire."
The Sept. 1 incident was a major blow to Musk's company, as the rocket was supposed to lift off the Israeli communications satellite known as Amos 6 into space. Both Facebook and Eutelsat, a French satellite provider, have invested about $100 million each for leasing bandwidth.
Although grounded by the rocket explosion, SpaceX has not been deterred. On Sept. 13, the company's president announced plans to resume flights in November after SpaceX's almost three-month hiatus.
"We're anticipating ... being down for about three months, getting back to flight in the November timeframe," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell during a satellite industry conference in France.
Shotwell did not explain what type of repairs are needed for the Falcon 9 rocket to return to flight in November.
SpaceX has also not disclosed how much damage the explosion caused to the ground support equipment and the launch pad, but the $200 million Amos 6 satellite was destroyed in the accident.
But can SpaceX recover quickly enough for its rocket launches to resume?
Before the incident in early September, the last SpaceX accident happened in June 2015, when a Falcon 9 rocket blew up a few minutes after it was launched.
The next month, SpaceX identified the problem as a faulty strut, but the company did not get back to its missions until December 2015. It resulted in a five-month hiatus.
Tory Bruno, the CEO of United Launch Alliance, has told Reuters that it usually takes about 9 to 12 months for a company to recover from a space launch accident.
However, Popular Science has pointed out that SpaceX's operations are different from that of ULA, so it would not be a surprise if the former can return to the launch pad sooner.
Still, the Musk-led company's return to rocket launches depends on how long it would take engineers to determine the cause of the blast and then fix it. MIT scientist Paulo Lozano says based on the complexity of the problem, recovery could take a while.
"If a turbo pump in the rocket engine fails, it could take months or years to recover from a failure like that," Lozano told Popular Science. "It's not the same as something simple like a leaking valve."
Photo: Steve Jurvetson | Flickr