SpaceX has postponed the launch of its next cargo delivery mission for NASA by 24 hours to allow time for additional system checks; the company announced late Monday. The launch, set for Wednesday, will be the first from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad since August 2016.
Construction members made KSC’s pad 39A, which SpaceX had already leased from NASA and altered from its space shuttle layout, to support Falcon 9 flights this year, then turned their attention to repairing and upgrading pad 40. “After we dusted off ourselves after the accident, we observed at this as a chance to not only reconstruct the pad but to make it great,” stated John Muratore, director of Space Launch Complex 40. “We have gone in and done a lot of work reinforcing the structures, developing the ground systems, and building systems common with our other pads so that people and tools can be reused between all the pads at SpaceX.”
Pad 40 lies a few miles to the south of pad 39A on Air Force property, sandwiched between launch facilities managed by rival United Launch Alliance. First built in the 1960s for the Air Force’s Titan rocket plans, Complex 40 hosted its last Titan 4 launch in 2005. SpaceX secured the pad in 2007, then launched the first Falcon 9 rocket there in 2010. The launch is a first for SpaceX, and its breakthrough could pave the way for a more sustainable space trip. But it is not the first recycled rocket: NASA’s space shuttle was the first reusable spacecraft, offering 135 missions and each time shedding only its fuel tank. Not only could reusable rockets reduce the astronomical cost of building new spacecraft, but might help to limit the vast amount of space debris clogging the Earth’s orbit.
Space junk is becoming such a hazard that NASA has produced a new, smart guard to help defend against the 23,000 hunks of debris flying encompassing the planet. A large part of this waste is leftover satellites, rocket parts and other remains of human space tour. The new sensor was expected to be carried to the ISS on the suspended SpaceX mission, and NASA TV was preparing to stream its launch. It has not still verified whether this will go forward in light of the delay.
This launch when it eventually takes place will be the 13th commercial ISS resupply mission from SpaceX. It will carry 4,800lbs of primary research tools and supplies to the station, where it will dock for 30 days.