SpaceX rocket set for next flight as company boosts production

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb 8 (Reuters) - Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, will attempt its second launch of the year this month, as it ramps up production of its Falcon 9 rockets to handle more than $8 billion of business for NASA and commercial companies, officials said.

The next SpaceX launch is scheduled for Feb. 24, its customer, SES SA, a Luxembourg-based satellite communications operator, said on Monday.

“SpaceX is currently completing an extended series of testing and pre-flight validation,” SES said in a statement.

The rocket will be carrying the 11,700-pound (5,300-kg) Boeing-built SES-9 communications satellite.

SpaceX declined to comment on the launch. But the Hawthorne, California-based company, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, has said it hopes to fire off more than a dozen Falcon 9 rockets this year, as well as debut a new heavy-lift booster and a third launch U.S. launch pad.

“We’re in this factory transformation to go from building six or eight (rocket cores) a year to about 18. By the end of this year, we should be at over 30 cores per year,” President Gwynne Shotwell told a Federal Aviation Administration commercial space conference last week. A rocket core is the main body of a rocket.

SpaceX is also looking to refly its rockets, potentially slashing launch costs.

The company successfully landed a rocket after a satellite-delivery mission in December.

For the SES mission, the rocket will be out of range for a landing attempt back at the Florida launch site, SpaceX said.

Instead, the company will try again to return the rocket’s first stage to a platform in the ocean. Three previous ocean-landing attempts failed, although the last try in January came close. The returning rocket touched down on the floating platform, but then keeled over and exploded after one of its stabilizing landing legs failed to latch.

SpaceX shot off five rockets in the first four months of 2015, but stumbled during a June cargo run to the International Space Station for NASA.

SpaceX returned a repaired and upgraded Falcon 9 rocket to flight in December. That mission also marked the rocket’s first successful landing.

The recovered booster, which touched down on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, was test-fired last month. The results sparked another round of rocket modifications, Shotwell said. (Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Peter Cooney)