Customers Edgy as SpaceX’s Schedule Slips; Falcon Heavy Flight Delayed Again

Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)
Falcon 9 launch (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s customers are again experiencing the effects of Elon Musk’s focus on continuous upgrades to its Falcon 9 rocket as launch dates slide to the right. Meanwhile, the long-delayed debut of the company’s 28-engine Falcon Heavy vehicle has been postponed by at least five more months.

SpaceX’s silence on the schedule delays of its Falcon 9 Upgrade rocket, whose inaugural flight on Dec. 21 was a success, is causing ripples of concern among commercial customers, which like NASA are counting on a high launch cadence in 2016 to meet these companies’ schedule milestones, industry officials said.

The next flight of the Falcon 9 Upgrade, also known as Falcon 9 v1.2, is ostensibly dedicated to the 5,300-kilogram SES-9 telecommunications satellite, headed to geostationary transfer orbit.

That mission, scheduled for September, has been repeatedly delayed as Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX made final checks on the new-version rocket, which provides 30 percent more power than the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket it is replacing….

Industry officials are now openly speculating that the launch will not occur until March. The effect of another month’s delay might be minimal for SES – although the company’s 2016 revenue forecast includes substantial SES-9 revenue. But the knock-on effects on the rest of the SpaceX manifest for 2016 may be more important….

On Jan. 30, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk, in remarks at Texas A&M University on the SpaceX-backed competition to design future fast passenger ground transportation, said the Falcon Heavy “is supposed to launch toward the end of this year. I’d say maybe late September.”

SpaceX has originally set an early 2013 date for the first Falcon Heavy flight. The most recent estimate had the heavy-lift vehicle scheduled for April.

SpaceX’s busiest launch year was in 2015, when it flew seven times. One of those flights exploded after launch, resulting in a six month stand down for the Falcon 9.

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