Shotwell: Next Falcon 9 Launch Likely in Mid-July

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was on The John Batchelor Show last night to explain recent Falcon 9 launch delays and the unexpected decision not to webcast a launch attempt on Saturday, which upset some of its rabid fans.

Shotwell said that the most recent delay on Sunday was caused by a problem with the first stage thrust vector control actuator. Although they could have probably launched safely with the problem, the company wanted to be “super careful” and look at the second stage thrust vector control actuator as well, she added.

The Falcon 9 rocket is set to deliver six ORBCOMM communications satellites into orbit.

SpaceX has asked the U.S. Air Force Eastern Test Range to reserve July 14 and 15 for launch attempts, Shotwell said. The range is entering a two-week maintenance period, and SpaceX couldn’t guarantee it could fly in the next few days, she added.  Air Force officials have not confirmed those dates yet.

Shotwell said the decision not to webcast the Saturday launch attempt was part of an effort to move away from the webcast format to a more high tech feel. Because the weather was iffy on Saturday, they decided to transition on that day even though they had webcast the Friday launch attempt as the company does for all its launches.  Shotwell said SpaceX had planned to live stream the launch on Sunday before the flight was scrubbed.

Shotwell didn’t explain precisely what exactly the new format is, although it could involve a live stream without commentators sitting at a desk at SpaceX headquarters.  Nor did she provide any explanation as to why the company didn’t provide a clear answer on Saturday about the transition.

“We’ve actually been ready to move away from the webcasts for awhile,” SpaceX spokeswoman Emily Shanklin wrote in an email on Saturday to Spaceflight Now. ”It takes a lot of resources but the main reason is these launches are becoming more routine and the full webcast isn’t really appropriate anymore.”
The reference to SpaceX launches becoming more routine was roundly criticized online because this is only the third launch of the year for the company with six months already gone in 2014.