As per the latest reports, the newly rebuilt Florida launch pad is ready to return to service with the launch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket which is scheduled to take on December 12. The Space Launch Complex (SLC) at Cape Carnival, Florida suffered significant damage during the explosion of Falcon 9 rocket last year and was not in use since September 2016. Now after one year, the launch pad has been successfully repaired and rebuilt and is ready to launch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which will send a Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station. On December six, the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster underwent a successful static fire test, the first major activity at the SLC 40 pad since the explosion.
SpaceX has spent around $50 million to rebuild the launch pad and claims that the new pad has improved a lot and can result in higher flight rates. The company officials said that they analyzed how the launches took place previously from the pad 40 and other two launch pads in Florida and incorporated improvements to the new pad so that it could support many years of Falcon 9 launches. John Muratore, director of SLC-40 at SpaceX said that they really looked at this opportunity not to rebuild the pad but to make it better. They focused on making hardware on the pad more robust so that there is minimal risk of any damage to the pad during launch. That’s critical to our rapid flight strategy. If you don’t take damage on the pad then you can fly more often,” stated Muratore. He also informed that the launch pad can be turned between the launches in a week or less.
Coming to technical aspects of the improvements, the launch pad got a “really augmented” water system to protect the pad from damage during the explosion. The flame trenches were improved to limit erosion of the concrete. The new transporter erector has been made bigger to withstand higher winds.
SpaceX worked hard to enhance the pad systems by protecting wiring, hydraulic systems, and fluid lines and covering the previously exposed components with concrete. Last year on September 1, a Falcon 9 rocket suddenly exploded five minutes before a pre-launch engine test which destroyed the rocket completely and heavily damaged the launch pad.
The company officials said that most probably the explosion occurred due to the catastrophic failure of a high-pressure helium tank immersed in the second stage’s super-cold liquid-oxygen propellant. Apart from considering changes in helium tank conditions, SpaceX also paid a lot of attention to build the launch pad in such a way that in case of explosion, there will be minimal damage to the pad. Muratore said, “We could have gotten the pad back in operation sooner, but we wouldn’t have had the pad we wanted to keep for the next 10 to 20 years.” This indicates how conscious and dedicated SpaceX was while repairing the SLC 40 pad.