Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX hopes to return its Falcon 9 rocket to flight on December 16, said Iridium Communications Inc, which plans to have 10 of its satellites on board for launching. The launch is contingent on approval by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees US commercial space transportation, Iridium said on Thursday.
“We are looking forward to return to flight,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement from Iridium. SpaceX suspended flights after one of its rockets burst into flames on September 1 as it was being fueled for a routine prelaunch test at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
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The company traced the explosion to a fueling system problem that caused a pressurized container of helium inside the rocket’s upper stage to burst. The accident destroyed a $200 million satellite owned by Israel’s Space Communication Ltd.
“We are confident that SpaceX understands its fueling process now and will do it successfully for our launch,” Iridium spokeswoman Diane Hockenberry wrote in an email to Reuters.
Iridium’s satellites, however, will not be aboard the rocket during the prelaunch engine firing, she added.
SpaceX declined to comment about the status of its accident investigation or what measures it will take to ensure the problem will not reoccur. The company uses extremely cold liquid propellants loaded just prior to blastoff to increase the rocket’s power so it can fly back to Earth and be reused.
A US National Aeronautics and Space Administration advisory panel last month publicly questioned the safety of SpaceX’s fueling process, especially since the company has been hired to begin flying astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018.
The September 1 accident was the second for SpaceX in 29 flights of the Falcon 9. The company, owned and operated by Tesla Motors Inc Chief Executive Officer Musk, has a backlog of more than 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers, worth more than $10 billion.
SpaceX has not disclosed the extent of the damage at its primary launch site in Florida. The Iridium satellites will be launched from SpaceX’s California launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Iridium intends to replace its current mobile communications network with 81 new satellites made by Italy’s Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture of Thales SA and Leonardo Finmeccanica SpA under a contract worth $2.3 billion.