The process is in motion again as SpaceX prepares to launch
its first Falcon
, 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
, 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
"The rocket itself should be ready
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
until it completes fueling and engine tests in the coming days.