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SpaceX will revive the Cape Canaveral launch pad damaged in a 2016 explosion for its next resupply mission to the International Space Station no earlier than December, NASA said Thursday. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 will host its first launch since the September 2016 incident left the remains of a Falcon 9 rocket and attached satellite smoldering after a “static test fire,” or checkout of the rocket’s nine Merlin main engines, which are routine SpaceX operations conducted before every mission.
The incident destroyed a satellite that Facebook had planned to use to extend internet access in Africa. Since then, SpaceX has conducted test fires without attached payloads. The 13th SpaceX mission for NASA, labeled Commercial Resupply Services 13, will take an uncrewed, previously flown Dragon spacecraft to the ISS with thousands of pounds of supplies and science experiments. The spacecraft first flew on CRS-6 in April 2015 before its Pacific Ocean splashdown and recovery. In January, SpaceX said its investigation found that the explosion was likely a result of buckling in containers that store helium, which is used to pressurize propellant tanks. A pooling of super-chilled liquid oxygen in the buckles between the lining and a carbon composite wrap covering the tanks caused friction or breaking carbon fibers that ignited the oxygen.
The Hawthorne, California-based company led by CEO Elon Musk said it would reconfigure the helium tanks and load the gas at a warmer temperature. A long-term redesign was also announced. SpaceX has not seen a launch vehicle failure since the incident.
Teams at Kennedy Space Center, meanwhile, are targeting 3:34 p.m. Monday for the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A with the Koreasat-5A commercial communications satellite. The mission will include a first stage landing on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship shortly after liftoff, which should return to Port Canaveral several days later.
Contact Emre Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-242-3715 . Follow him on Twitter and Facebook at @EmreKelly.