Next SpaceX Launch Slips into Mid-November

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Falcon 9 v1.1 engine configuration. (Credit: SpaceX)

Chris Bergin over at NASASpaceFlight.com says that SpaceX has slipped the next launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 to mid-November in order to deal with an engine problem that cropped up during its debut flight on Sept. 29.

The SES-8 communications satellite will now be launched no earlier than Nov. 12 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. If the flight goes well, SpaceX will then aim to put the Thaicom-6 communications satellite in orbit no earlier than Dec. 12 to close out its launch year.

Before any new launches can take place, SpaceX engineers must understand why the second stage engine failed to re-ignite in space during the Sept. 29 flight.  The second stage must be able to restart in order to put communications satellites into geosynchronous orbit.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the engine began the ignition process, but it shutdown after encountering an anomaly. He has provided no details on the nature of the problem.

The Sept. 29 launch was the first flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1, which was equipped with longer fuel tanks and improved Merlin 1-D engines.  The first stage performed as expected.

If SpaceX gets both flights off by the end of the year, it will finish 2013 with four launches. The company hoped to complete five flights this year; however, a cargo mission to the International Space Station set for December has slipped into January.

The company is working toward getting into a regular rhythm of launching Falcon 9s once per month. SpaceX has a substantial number of launches on its manifest for government and commercial customers.