Years after launchpad explosion, SpaceX to attempt launch of communication satellite

Nearly three years after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explosion destroyed a previous satellite, communication company Spacecom will again try to launch a satellite next week.

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The promise of high-speed internet in parts of rural Africa died in an explosion ultimately blamed on liquid oxygen leaking into the wrong parts of a Falcon 9 rocket.

That happened Sept. 1, 2016, two days before a satellite called Amos-6 was supposed to go up.

"They are investigating every valve, and, at the end of the day, they will safely launch us," said David Pollack, the president and CEO of Spacecom.

Pollack said he had to put some of his personal feelings aside and had a tough decision to make.

On the one hand, he said, he had the memory of watching millions of dollars burn up in a single instant. On the other hand, he had a business deal to do, and he said using SpaceX still made the most sense.

Sending spacecraft into orbit and beyond is not an easy mission, and sometimes things go wrong, especially when you're trying to invent new technology.

Pollack joined his counterpart at Boeing on Friday to explain what makes Amos-17 better than the Amos-6 that never made it to space.

"It was definitely a bad blow to our company,” Pollack said. “We lost important customers like Facebook."

Pollack said his company is unlucky, a victim of chance, which he said he believes is unavoidable when you're strapping things to the back of rockets.

"I'm very confident. You go back -- they had more than 75 successful launches since then. So we feel good," Pollack said.

He said insurance covered the cost of Amos-6, but getting Amos-17 into orbit is the only way to make up for all the lost business.

Boeing made Spacecom a spacecraft fitted with tri-band satellite coverage and a 3D-printed antenna. These features will allow for broader internet access for less money.

That launch was supposed to be Saturday, but instead, SpaceX is doing another static fire test that could come as soon as Friday evening.

The safety-related test has pushed the launch back to Monday at the earliest.

The future of SpaceX's launch vehicles

SpaceX has also seen some other mishaps in the past few months.

The company said a fuel leak caused a Crew Dragon capsule to explode during a launch pad test in April.

Last month, SpaceX’s Starhopper vehicle, a prototype of SpaceX’s Starship, was surrounded by a fireball after an engine fire test. There was no major damage and the Starhopper took its first free flight last week.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he is expected to announce some important updates on Starship by the middle of August.

Starship represents an ambitious direction for SpaceX, with plans to carry astronauts to the moon and Mars.

Environmental paperwork filed by NASA is providing an idea of what SpaceX needs to build at Kennedy Space Center to get Starship off the ground.

Much of what it needs is already in place, but Starship will require an expansion of SpaceX's operations at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

“It's Elon's next big effort for SpaceX,” said Dale Ketcham, with Space Florida. “It's moving out fast and it's big and bold.”

At SpaceX’s Florida Starship facility in Cocoa, a Starship prototype is being developed by SpaceX for crewed and uncrewed missions to take humans and cargo to earth orbit and beyond.

Elon Musk's "goal is to be able to get to Mars with a vehicle and lots of people can go in this starship,” Ketcham said. “These are all prototypes, but the man's moving out. Give him credit.”

A draft environmental assessment released Thursday by NASA for Starship and Falcon Super Heavy launch vehicles at Kennedy Space Center provides new details on how the operation could take shape.

SpaceX currently operates its Falcon launch vehicles from Launch Complex 39A, but the company proposes to expand operations there to include the launch of Starship and Super Heavy vehicles.

Documents show Landing Zone 1, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, would be used as a landing location for Starship.

The draft report on the plan concluded the proposal was not likely to cause any significant cumulative impacts to regional resources.

“There are lots of new things happening quickly and it's sometimes confusing, but also exciting and cool and the way we want it,” Ketcham said.

SpaceX said Friday, "As Starship development accelerates, SpaceX is working with our partners to continue upgrading LC-39A's infrastructure to build upon past achievements and advance new capabilities in space.”

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