SpaceX grounded: Falcon 9’s next flight still ‘a couple of months’ away

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket  © Scott Audette
SpaceX still isn’t ready to give its Falcon 9 rocket another launch date following its primary mission failure in June, when an unmanned rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded just a couple of minutes after taking off.

According to the company’s president, Gwynne Shotwell, the next Falcon 9 takeoff is “a couple of months away,” Reuters reported.

"We’re taking more time than we originally envisioned, but I don’t think any one of our customers wants us to race to the cliff and fail again,” she said at a panel discussion during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space 2015 conference in California.

Back on June 28, a Falcon 9 rocket intended to launch a cargo ship to the ISS blew up about two minutes into launch. An investigation conducted by the company found that a flawed steel strut located in the rocket’s second stage fuel tank was the “most probable” cause of the blast.

While Shotwell said the problem is “easy” to fix, she added that the company is also poring over other details to “make sure we’re not seeing something like that anywhere throughout the vehicle or the supply chain.”

SpaceX stated at the time that no new flights would be conducted until at least September. Shotwell’s statement sets the stage for a November flight at the earliest.

READ MORE: ‘Spaceflight isn’t easy’: Rocket scientists despondent after latest ISS mission failure

Nevertheless, Shotwell maintained that SpaceX still wants to successfully land the first stage rocket booster in order to keep moving forward on its mission to develop a reusable rocket, which would dramatically reduce the cost of commercial space launches.

"I want to see a Falcon 9 first stage land on a drone ship or land on my landing site," she said, according to Vice’s Motherboard. "If you don't get reusability to work, it's a one-way trip to Mars, and that's not the way you want to go. I want to stick a landing this year."

To do that, SpaceX may very well have to stage a successful launch and stage one landing on its next flight. Additionally, Shotwell said it is also progressing on a new version of the Falcon 9 that is 30 percent more powerful, Motherboard stated.

Before the June incident, SpaceX had delivered six cargoes to the ISS in the past three years.

The explosion of the Falcon 9 in June marked another setback for private space companies in the US. Last October, another rocket developed by Orbital ATK, called the Antares, exploded shortly after launch. It was also bearing cargo for the ISS.

It also marked a setback for NASA, which has looked to Russia and Japan to resupply the ISS as a result. Facing a lack of funding for its human spaceflight commercial crew program, the agency also decided to extend its contract with Russian space agency Roscosmos until 2019, at the cost of $490 million.