Falcon 9 RTF has a launch date!

After the shocking pre-launch explosion of a Falcon 9 last September, destroying the payload and severely damaging the pad, SpaceX has announced a launch date for their return-to-flight.  The SLC-40 pad at Cape Canaveral is still not in usable condition, but SLC-4E at Vandenberg is of course perfectly fine; that’s where the next flight, with 10 Iridum NEXT satellites on board, will launch.

Pending FAA approval after submission of their failure investigation findings, the Iridium launch is expected to occur this Sunday, January 8.  SpaceX has a very full backlog that it will need to start working on right after that, but as SLC-40 will take time to repair, the next Florida launch (Echostar  23) will be from the venerable LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center, on Merritt Island.  LC-39A was originally built for the Saturn V, then modified for the Space Shuttle, and now is nearly ready to support Falcon 9.  Both SLC-4E and LC-39A will be capable of hosting the enormous Falcon Heavy, which SpaceX hopes to fly twice this year if all goes well — one test flight, and then the first operational flight on behalf of the USAF.  Meanwhile, cargo Dragon flights are scheduled to resume in February, and SpaceX tentatively plans to make their first uncrewed test flight of the crewed Dragon later this year.  However, their manifest is so full that even slight delays could push that into 2018.  Their ultimate dream has always been to fly humans, but they are committed to meeting their commercial obligations as well.

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