SpaceX loads Iridium satellites for first Falcon 9 mission since explosion

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The payload is now on board for SpaceX’s first return to launch following its September 1 explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket on a launchpad during fueling. The proposed launch is currently awaiting clearance by the FAA for a launch window that opens January 7 and goes through January 9.

A return to flight for SpaceX would be a big step forward in terms of the private spacefaring company recovering from its September mishap. SpaceX has investigated the cause of the explosion, which occurred during pre-flight fueling procedures and resulted in no injuries. The company found that the likely cause was frozen oxygen, which burst a high-pressure tank containing helium, which is used for pressurization during the second stage of the rocket’s launch. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has previously explained that the company believes it can avoid any future incidents with this system by altering the pre-flight fueling procedure.

Iridium’s payload for this Falcon 9 mission is a group of 10 satellites, which will act as relay stations for its mobile voice and data network. All the planned flights on SpaceX’s manifest post-launch have been affected by the need to investigate and regroup following the explosion, but the company continues to win contracts from clients, including NASA, despite delays.

SpaceX and Iridium had previously been looking at December 16 as a potential return-to-flight date for this mission, but both parties still need clearance from the FAA to proceed with the launch. January 7-9 is the next window, but there’s no surefire guarantee they’ll be cleared in time for that opening, either.