On September 1st, 2016, the SpaceX Amos 6 mission suffered a landing pad anomaly during second stage fuelling resulting in a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD) – that’s rocket scientist for ‘explosion’. To see what we’re talking about, check out this video from US Launch Report:
This RUD not only resulted in loss of payload, it also resulted in significant damage to Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral where SpaceX has been launching from. This photo from Space.com gives us a better view of the extent of the damage. As you can see, the entire transporter erector structure has been destroyed.
For these reasons and more, all future SpaceX missions were grounded while both internal and FAA led investigations proceeded to identify the cause of the anomaly. After 4 long months of deliberations, it was determined that the issue was caused by a pooling of liquid oxygen in the fibres of the composite helium tank. When the helium tank was filled, this resulted in friction that ignited the liquid oxygen, destroying the rocket. For a more detailed explanation of what happened, check out this great video from Scott Manley:
With the conclusion of investigations, the FAA has finally given the go ahead for SpaceX to proceed with future missions, with Iridium announcing on Twitter that they would be launching from the west coast from Vandenberg Air Force Base starting early next week, weather permitting.
— Iridium Corporate (@IridiumComm) January 6, 2017
However it is not exactly smooth sailing as the west coast of America has been pummelled by some of the worst storms it has seen in a long time. As a result, rumours are mounting that the launch may slip by as far as one day to one week.
#SpaceX return to flight will not occur on Monday 9th as planned. Officially weather issues. Jan 10th possible date, but pretty unlikely
— Vincent Lamigeon (@VincentLamigeon) January 7, 2017
We wish SpaceX the best of luck in their RTF. Rocket science isn’t easy, and it is always best to exercise caution. In any case, we will all be watching with baited breath for the first launch and hopefully landing of 2017.