After watching the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explode shortly after launch back in June, two things were going through my head. “How will they handle this disaster?” and “When will they return to flight?” The first question was answered in the weeks that followed as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk reported that the most likely cause of the accident was a failure in a second stage strut that held a high pressure helium tank in place. The second question could be answered this evening when the first Falcon 9 launch in six months takes place at Cape Canaveral.
The last time a Falcon 9 launched, it could have made history with the first ever landing of a spent first stage rocket. The falcon 9’s first stage would launch, separate from the second stage, and return to Earth to land on a floating barge in the ocean, a difficult task indeed. Though unsuccessful in two previous tries, everyone watching had hoped for success. Of course the rocket never got the chance to try, since it exploded on the way up.
This time, there will be no ocean landing, but there will be an attempt the land the first stage of the rocket back on a landing pad back at Cape Canaveral, something that has never been done before. This is of course a secondary objective, the first being the deployment of a series of 11 communications satellites for ORBCOMM.
If the mission and the secondary landing of the first stage are successful, then an incredible return to flight and a new milestone in rocketry will be reached. If the landing fails, then we may see yet another Falcon 9 explosion make the rounds on the internet.