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SpaceX May Soon Return to Flight, Satellite Launch Customer Says
Posted December 2, 2016
SpaceX May Soon Return to Flight, Satellite Launch Customer Says
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By Samantha Masunaga. Updated December 2, 2016 8:46AM

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SpaceX could return to flight in about two weeks pending Federal Aviation Administration approval after a September explosion that destroyed one of its rockets, satellite launch customer Iridium Communications Inc. said Thursday.

The McLean, Va., satellite communications company said 10 of its satellites could launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Dec. 16 at 12:36 p.m. Pacific time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Iridium said it expected to be SpaceX's first launch customer since the explosion, which took place on SpaceX's launch pad in Florida and destroyed the Falcon 9 rocket and its payload, a commercial communications satellite that was to be operated by Israeli satellite operator Spacecom.

"We have remained confident in SpaceX's ability as a launch partner throughout the Falcon 9 investigation," Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said in a statement. "We are grateful for their transparency and hard work to plan for their return to flight."

Under federal law, SpaceX is allowed to conduct its own investigation with FAA oversight. SpaceX's accident investigation team for this incident includes NASA, the Air Force and other industry experts.

Before a launch operator can return to flight after a mishap, the FAA must approve that the recommended fix addresses the cause of the problem. It must also give approval of the launch, which is standard for all launches that occur.

In the Iridium statement, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the Hawthorne company, whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is "looking forward to return to flight" with the Iridium launch.

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said last month that the company could start launching again in mid-December.

In an interview on CNBC, Musk said SpaceX thought it had "gotten to the bottom of the problem," though he described the cause of the explosion as something that has "never been encountered before in the history of rocketry."

An investigation into the cause of the explosion is still ongoing, though the company has narrowed its investigation of the explosion to one of three composite-overwrapped pressure vessels that hold helium in the rocket's second-stage liquid oxygen tank.

In October, SpaceX said it could re-create a failure in the vessel "entirely through helium loading conditions," suggesting this could be a cause of the explosion.

© 2017 Los Angeles Times syndicated under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

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