SpaceX Explosion Probably Will Delay Taiwanese Imaging Satellite

How Will the SpaceX Blast Impact Future Contracts?
  • Island had planned to replace commercial-use satellite in 2016
  • Taiwan still waiting to see if Falcon 9 issues can be resolved

The first satellite developed by Taiwan’s space program probably will be delayed after an explosion last week destroyed the SpaceX rocket that was supposed to carry it into space.

The island’s remote-sensing satellite may not get to enter orbit before the end of this year, H.P. Chang, director of the Formosat-5 program at Taiwan’s National Space Organization, told foreign correspondents on Tuesday. A launch originally had been set for the second quarter, Taiwan said in March.

U.S. investigators are looking into why the Falcon 9 rocket, developed by billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., blew up on Sept. 1 before a scheduled test launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The explosion incinerated a satellite that Facebook Inc. had planned to use to beam Internet access across parts of Africa.

Communication-satellite maker Iridium Communications Inc. is ahead in the queue for a Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Chang said. “We’re still waiting for more” information on the schedule, he added.

The remote-sensing satellite will be operated completely by Taiwan and is mainly for commercial use. Its predecessor, which was in service for 12 years until last month, delivered one in five images for military use.

Not Switching

Explosion at the SpaceX launch site on Sept. 1.
Explosion at the SpaceX launch site on Sept. 1.
Source: USLaunchReport.com

Taiwan isn’t considering switching to another company to launch the satellite, said Shiann-Jenn Yu, deputy director-general of the space organization. The program still plans to send the first half of its next-generation weather forecast system -- a 12-satellite constellation called the Formosat-7 -- into space early next year using another SpaceX rocket, the Falcon Heavy.

“Rocket launches inherently carry risk,” Yu said. 

The space program is in the midst of a 15-year effort focusing on spacecraft design and integration, Yu said. The next stage could turn to miniature satellites, which companies from Airbus Group SE to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. want to help launch.

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