From The Editors Science

Preparations for SpaceX’s Second Falcon 9 Launch of the Year Underway

Live updates of the Falcon 9’s hectic pre-flight preparations are continuing to come in as I write this. On Friday, a Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out of the SpaceX hangar and transported to the Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch pad 39A on a brand new transporter-erector. It is now standing upright on the pad awaiting a stationary fire test scheduled for Saturday.

The launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center owes its historic significance to the fact that it was the launch pad for NASA’s Apollo and Space Shuttle missions and was used for a number NASA launches in the past. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch will be the first since July 8, 2011, when the space agency’s Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis lifted off from the pad for the final flight of the Shuttle program.

2016 proved to be a fairly good year for SpaceX in that it won its first ever commercial contracts to launch payloads into low orbit. Many would disagree, though, considering the pre-launch explosion in September last year when a Falcon 9 rocket together with its payload exploded at the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. However, Space X redeemed itself with a successful launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, delivery of payload, and booster retrieval as recently as January 14, 2017.

Well, good or bad, 2016 is history and looking forward it seems that 2017 promises to be the biggest year, ever, since it was founded back in June 2002. It might well be the deciding factor for the future of SpaceX in particular and space exploration in general.

Space X started the year on a positive note with the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket, as mentioned earlier. Falcon 9 nine lifted off carrying a payload of 10 Iridium satellites, delivered the payload into orbit, and SpaceX retrieved the booster for repeat launches, all done with high levels of success. This must have been a huge relief for the SpaceX supremo, Elon Musk who had been under tremendous pressure after the Cape Canaveral pre-launch disaster.

Reportedly, SpaceX has planned over thirty scheduled launches for this year. Two missions will be for the United States government, five for NASA, and the remaining will be commercial launches for customers including Falcon Heavy Launches for the United States Air Force and Intelsat, Luxemburg. The number of launches is likely to increase with the SpaceX customer base being expected to expand globally.

The upgraded and latest version ‘Falcon 9 Block 5’ with the fully re-usable 1st stage will take over from the older versions.

Another huge addition to the SpaceX launch-résumé is reported to be manned missions – the Dragon2 orbital test flight and NASA’s ISS (International Space Station) mission.

With launches planned for 2018, it would be a giant leap for SpaceX and Elon Musk with the promise of a great future in manned missions and Elon Musk’s long-term Mars plans. If all goes well the first manned mission to the red planet will become a distinct possibility in just over a decade. Also, from a commercial perspective, limitless opportunities can open up for SpaceX with the success of these initial test flights and missions.

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