SpaceX loses Inmarsat launch to rival rocket

The setback for SpaceX comes a day after the company announced it is targeting a launch date in early January for its next mission - pending FAA approval of course. This launch is planned for the first half of 2017 and Inmarsat said it looked forward to continuing to work with SpaceX in future.

On September 1, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded catastrophically at a launch site in Florida. "This allows for additional time to close out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing".

Satellite communications company Iridium Communications Inc. had planned to launch its next-generation global satellite on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with lift-off scheduled for december 16.

A Falcon 9 rocket erupted into flames during a test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on September 1, delaying all the missions until completion of an investigation pinpointing the cause of the mishap and repairs to avoid a repeat problem. The Air Force will then approve a new launch date.

"We are delighted with the flexibility that Arianespace has shown in being able to provide a launch slot that enables us to place our European Aviation Network S-band satellite in orbit by mid-2017", said Michele Franci, CTO of Inmarsat. And Iridium representatives suggested last week that the highly anticipated launch might take place on december 16. Satellite specialist Iridium Communications is slated to place 10 of its satellites aboard the Falcon 9 for that launch.

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SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk told CNBC last month that investigators believe they have narrowed the likely cause of the September 1 mishap to a problem during filling of the rocket's second stage with super-cold liquid oxygen.

Musk said engineers believe they can fix the problem with a change in fueling procedures, avoiding major hardware changes that would have kept SpaceX missions grounded longer.

As a precaution, Iridium's satellites won't be aboard during the prelaunch engine test.

Iridium's constellation is said to be the world's biggest commercial satellite network located in the low-Earth orbit. SpaceX's accident investigation team for this incident includes NASA, the Air Force and other industry experts.

  • Douglas Reid