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SpaceX hopes to return to flight by November, company's president claims

It's SpaceX's 'best hope' scenario

SpaceX

SpaceX hopes to start launching its rockets again in November, a mere three months after the company’s Falcon 9 exploded on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida. That’s according to SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell, who spoke today at Euroconsult's World Satellite Business Week — a conference in Paris.

"We're anticipating getting back to flight, being down for about three months, and getting back to flight in November," said Shotwell, in a video recorded by Andreas Menn, a reporter for German business magazine WirtschaftsWoche. However, Shotwell indicated that the three-month turnaround was the most optimistic scenario for the company, according to Space News reporter Peter B. de Selding. A SpaceX representative also confirmed this with The Verge.

Shotwell noted that the first flight could launch from SpaceX’s launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, or it could take off from Cape Canaveral. However, it won’t be taking off from SpaceX’s pad at Launch Complex 40 — the site of the explosion. That pad will need extensive repairs and probably won’t be ready to support launches by November.

Instead, SpaceX has been working on a new launch pad at Launch Complex 39A at the Cape. It’s a former Apollo and Space Shuttle launch site that the company leases from NASA. SpaceX recently confirmed that the pad at 39A would be ready by November and would be able to support both Falcon 9 launches and launches of the future Falcon Heavy — the company’s heavy-lift vehicle that’s essentially three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together.

The Falcon Heavy was supposed to do its first demonstration mission later this year, but the September 1st explosion pushed it back. Shotwell said in Paris that the Falcon Heavy will likely launch in the first quarter of next year. It’s the latest delay for the rocket’s debut, which has been pushed back for years. The vehicle was also supposed to take off from Cape Canaveral for its first flight, but Shotwell said it could launch from either Vandenberg or Florida.

The explosion is also probably going to push back another notable flight for SpaceX: the first launch of a reused Falcon 9. Originally, CEO Elon Musk said that flight would take place in the fall, likely in September or October. But later, satellite operator SES, whose satellite will launch on the reused rocket, said the flight would happen in the fourth quarter of 2016. So it’s possible that could still happen if SpaceX does return to flight in November, as Shotwell didn’t specify which payload the company will fly first.

But returning to spaceflight just three months after a failure is an extremely ambitious aim for SpaceX, given it took the company six months to return to flight after another rocket exploded in June 2015. A three-month turnaround is especially optimistic since the cause of the September 1st explosion hasn’t been identified yet. Even Musk conceded that the accident was the "most difficult and complex failure [the company has] ever had in 14 years."