By Henry Stewart
As SpaceX investigates the causes surrounding the September 1st, 2016 accident which destroyed a Falcon-9 rocket and its payload, the Israeli Amos-6 communications satellite, its worth noting that the investigation will likely delay future Falcon-9 launches until the cause of the accident is better understood.
|Video showing space launch complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral, Florida during and after the explosion of a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket on September 1st, 2016 along with commentary from Scott Manley. As outlined in the September 3rd, 2016 SpaceFlight Insider post, "SpaceX and NASA have released full statements about Thursday's rocket explosion — here's what they said," no one was hurt during the blast, but the rocket and payload were utterly destroyed. Original video c/o US Launch Reports.
Those delays could effect several Canadian satellite launch dates. They include:
- Telstar 18V & Telstar 19V, owned by Canadian satellite operator Telesat, which are currently scheduled for 2018. As outlined in the February 29th, 2016 post, "Telesat makes Agreements, MDA likes the USA, COM DEV not Forgotten & NSERC has Needs," the two multipurpose communications satellites are expected to launch as payloads on board separate SpaceX built Falcon-9 rockets sometime in 2018.
- RADARSAT Constellation (RCM), a three-satellite follow-on program to the successful RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 missions currently scheduled for 2018. As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post, "A $706Mln Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the final RCM contract, signed with prime contractor MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) included a contractual requirement to launch the three satellites in 2018. As outlined in the July 20th, 2013 SpaceX press release, "SpaceX Awarded Launch Reservation Contract for Largest Canadian Space Program," RCM is currently scheduled to fly on a Falcon-9.
The accident investigation could also push back the US Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which is intended to stimulate development of privately operated crew vehicles to be launched into low Earth orbit and eventually restore the US capability to sent astronauts and resupply the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX's current CCDev contract depends on Falcon-9 rockets.
It's also generally assumed that the next Canadian astronaut to visit the ISS will fly on a Dragon spacecraft, which launch on a Falcon-9 instead of the Russian Soyuz. Last week's explosion makes that a little less likely, although not impossible.
|AMOS-6 being prepped for flight in early 2016. As outlined in the September 5th, 2016 Ars Technica post, "SpaceX explosion: Amos-6 satellite owner demands $50M from Musk’s firm," Israeli communications firm Spacecom, which owned the AMOS-6, has demanded £37Mln GBP ($64Mln CDN) or a free flight as compensation the accident. Insurance will likely cover the satellite replacement but not the additional launch costs. One company which might benefit from a re-order is MDA. As outlined in the December 10th, 2012 MDA press release "MDA signs contract in excess of CA$100 million to provide communications payload for Israeli AMOS-6 satellite," the company made good coin developing and building the AMOS-6 communications array. Photo c/o Spacecom.
One program mostly unaffected by the September 1st explosion is the upcoming OSIRIS-REX asteroid sample return mission, which is currently scheduled to launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-5 rocket from Cape Canaveral space launch complex 41 (SLC-41), just down the coast from the SpaceX explosion, on September 8th.
It's currently scheduled for launch on the same day as India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which will be carrying the Insat 3DR geostationary weather satellite.
Interestingly enough, the GSLV launch was delayed from August 28th. Delays are common enough in the satellite industry, where no one company has a monopoly on skill. And perhaps that's the real secret takeaway from the events of the last few days.
Individual efforts may succeed or be delayed or fail, but a distributed program with multiple suppliers utilizing different strategies and design philosophies are always going to build a more robust infrastructure.
Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.