The customer just dropped the latest clue in the guessing game over SpaceX’s next rocket launch.
Commercial space companies aren’t always as transparent as public agencies such as NASA, as many of them are privately held, like SpaceX. The Hawthorne, Calif.- based company tends not to confirm launch dates until just beforehand, though it does offer video coverage of its rocket launches.
That’s more than Blue Origin has done. So far, the Kent, Wash.-based rocket start-up has posted launch video only after positive results are confirmed in Blue Origin rocket tests.
Against that backdrop comes word — not from SpaceX initially but from communications-satellite operator SES — that the rocket company is “targeting” Feb. 24 for launching the SES-9 satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. A SpaceX spokesman then confirmed those plans and added that Feb. 25 is tagged as a backup date.
The commercial mission has been listed on SpaceX’s launch manifest without a firm launch date for months. The launch — to place a Boeing-manufactured satellite above Asia for use in broadcast communications — was expected in the fall, only to be pushed to year’s end and then January, with recent speculation that the launch might not happen until March.
SpaceX was in launch hiatus for six months following a rocket explosion until Dec. 21, when it launched a communications satellite for Orbcomm. Then came a Jan. 21 mission for NASA to place the Jason–3 ocean-monitoring satellite into orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket that SpaceX will use for the SES launch is an upgraded version featuring 30 percent more thrust, and some of the launch’s delay is attributed to necessary fine-tuning.
“SpaceX is currently completing an extended series of testing and preflight validation in advance of the SES-9 launch,” SES said Feb. 8 in announcing the latest target launch date.
SES — which is publicly traded on European exchanges and needs to be transparent — said SpaceX will tweak launch thrust settings to allow the Falcon 9 to place the SES-9 into final orbit more quickly.
“In order to minimize the impact of moving the launch from late last year, SpaceX is supporting a mission modification,” SES said. “The changed mission will reduce the time needed for SES-9 to reach its orbital slot, keeping the operational service date in the third quarter of 2016.”
It should be noted that SpaceX execs have made bullish comments about increasing the frequency of launches as the year progresses. But little has been said of late about when SpaceX will resume cargo-deliver launches to the International Space Station for NASA.
Speculation to date can be summed up in two words: maybe March.