SpaceX preparing for Sunday launch, but it doesn’t have FAA approval yet

Space X CEO Elon Musk during a 2013 interview. (Web Summit/Flickr)
Space X CEO Elon Musk during a 2013 interview. (Web Summit/Flickr)
Space X CEO Elon Musk during a 2013 interview. (Web Summit/Flickr)

Elon Musk and his aerospace company, SpaceX, may soon be able to put September’s very expensive pre-launch explosion behind them.

The fledgling launch company announced this week that they completed their investigation and have scheduled the long-delayed Iridium NEXT launch for Sunday, Jan. 8.

The problem is, they still don’t have clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, and there are already reports the launch might be delayed by at least one day.

Investigators spent four months scouring more than 3,000 channels of video, data and physical debris in an attempt to discern what went wrong in the 93 milliseconds between the first sign of unusual data and the explosion that cost SpaceX its $200 million payload.

As of Monday, SpaceX had its answer.

One of the three composite over-wrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the liquid oxygen tank failed. SpaceX said the aluminum inner lining had buckled, allowing liquid oxygen to accumulate, then explode when solidified by super cold helium and exposed to pressure and friction.

The company has announced a short-term and a long-term solution to quicken the pace of their launches.

For now, they will change the COPV configuration to load warmer helium, thus avoiding the conditions that solidified the oxygen. And in the future, they will redesign the COPVs to prevent buckling completely.

SpaceX has, understandably, been chomping at the bit to get back to launches throughout the investigation. Near the end of October, SpaceX anticipated the investigation would be complete in time for a 2016 launch. By December, the company pushed the launch again, to January.

But, even then, the FAA had reservations.

Now that SpaceX has submitted its investigation report, it may seem that the company is in the clear. But the FAA still has to review the investigation report and issue a license to SpaceX before the launch.

As of Thursday, the FAA had granted no such license.

“The FAA has received the mishap investigation report from SpaceX, and it is under review,” and FAA spokesperson wrote in an email to Denverite on Thursday afternoon.

“The FAA continues to work closely with SpaceX as they conduct the investigation and prepare for future Falcon 9 launches, in compliance with all applicable regulations and license requirements. The FAA has not yet issued a license to SpaceX for a launch in January.”

Correction: This story originally gave the day of the scheduled launch as Saturday, but Jan. 8 is a Sunday.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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