SpaceX Plans Return to Flight on Jan. 8 Following Explosion

  • Liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base first since Sept. 1
  • Musk’s company still needs FAA license for launch Sunday

The Year in Space: Reusable Rockets

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. expects to launch several Iridium communications satellites Jan. 8 from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast, marking the company’s first return to flight since a Sept. 1 fireball destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket on a Florida launch pad.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial space ventures, still is reviewing the mishap.

“The FAA has not yet issued a license to SpaceX for a launch in January,” the agency said by e-mail Tuesday.

A SpaceX accident investigation team “concluded that one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank failed,” the company said Monday in a statement on its website. The September failure was likely because of an oxygen buildup or a void in the buckle in the liner of the vessel, the company said.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has called the Sept. 1 mishap the company’s most perplexing failure in 14 years. The blast occurred during a test firing of the rocket’s engines, destroying a Falcon 9 rocket and Amos-6, an Israeli communications satellite, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. No one was injured.

‘Corrective Actions’

SpaceX is making design changes to the overwrapped pressure vessels and “corrective actions address all credible causes and focus on changes which avoid the conditions that led” to the potential reasons for the September accident, the company said.

The fiery explosion, photos of which were splashed across front pages, was a major setback in a year that also saw a spectacular, first-ever landing at sea. In April, thousands tuned into a live-stream to watch a Falcon 9 rocket launch and, roughly eight minutes later, touch down on an unmanned drone-ship bobbing in the Atlantic ocean. Reusable rockets are key to Musk’s vision of opening access to space and ultimately building a human colony on Mars.

The Iridium NEXT constellation will replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of low-earth orbit satellites, Iridium Communications Inc. has said.

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