The process is in motion again as SpaceX prepares to launch its first Falcon 9 rocket, a thoroughly-tested but unproven launcher that could blast off as early as next month.
The Air Force 45th Space Wing and the Federal Aviation Administration are still reviewing paperwork on the new rocket, which is currently on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral for several days of ground tests.
Because of the continuing safety checks, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk says the earliest launch could occur is around March 22, although the 154-foot-tall rocket could be ready before then.
"The rocket itself should be ready to launch by early March," Musk told Spaceflight Now. "We are still working through the schedule for finishing the qualification tests of the flight termination system and receiving final range approval. SpaceX only has limited control over that schedule, so it is difficult to estimate the completion date accurately."
Musk said launch may not occur until April or May.
The flight termination system, or FTS, would destroy the rocket if problems developed causing the fuel-laden booster to veer off course.
The Falcon 9's destruct system features linear-shaped charges along two sides of the rocket, according to SpaceX officials.
"A way to get through the range safety process fast is to use most of the traditional equipment," said Tim Buzza, the Falcon 9 launch director. "It's in their experience base, and you're not trying to get too many new ideas on the table."
Company officials say there are some unique components in the Falcon 9 flight termination system, including new parts vendors, but the launcher carries a standard command receiver and pyrotechnic charges. The rocket has an auto destruct feature and can receive commands from a range safety officer on the ground, senior officials told Spaceflight Now.
Workers won't make final connections of the ordnance charges on the Falcon 9 until it completes fueling and engine tests in the coming days.