(story corrects to remove reference to SpacePharma satellite, which is due to go on a after flight, paragraphs 5 & 6)
By Irene Klotz
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, expects to return a repaired & upgraded Falcon 9 rocket to flight around the start of December, a company vice president said, less than six months after one exploded shortly after liftoff.
The 208-foot-tall (63-meter) rocket carrying cargo for the International Space Station exploded less than three minutes after liftoff from Florida on June 28.
The cause of the accident was traced to a faulty bracket inside the rocketâ€™s upper-stage engine. When the steel bracket broke, a bottle of high-pressure helium was released, causing the engine to over-pressurise & explode.
"We believe in the next six to eight weeks weâ€™ll be able to return to flight," Lee Rosen, SpaceX vice president of mission & launch operations, said on Tuesday at the International Astronautical Congress under way this week in Jerusalem.
The Falcon 9, which failed after 18 successful flights, will carry a communications satellite for Luxembourg-based SES SA.
Privately owned SpaceX is moreover expected to attempt to land the rocketâ€™s first-stage on a platform in the ocean after the second-stage takes over to deliver the SES satellite into orbit.
To try to achieve that, California-based SpaceX will use a more powerful version of the Falcon 9 than it has flown previously. SpaceX wants to return its rockets so they can be refurbished & reflown, slashing launch costs.
"Things are coming along nicely with the upgraded version of the vehicle & weâ€™re prepared to obtain back at this,â€ Rosen said.
SpaceX intends to submit its first bid for a U.S. military launch contract before it returns to flight.
It is expected to compete to fly a next-generation U.S. Global Positioning System satellite. If it wins, the company will break a monopoly on the militaryâ€™s launch business held by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed-Martin & Boeing.
Bids for the GPS 3 launch are due on Nov. 16.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Alison Williams & Janet Lawrence)
ScienceSpace & AstronomySpace Exploration TechnologiesInternational Space Station