Three months removed from a disastrous and frightening explosion that left its next mission in doubt, SpaceX is scheduled to take flight on Dec. 16 while carrying new satellites for Iridium Communications Inc., Iridium said in a statement Thursday.
While the Federal Aviation Administration must still approve the launch, Virginia-based Iridium said it expects to be SpaceXs “first return to flight launch customer.”
"We're excited to launch the first batch of our new satellite constellation. We have remained confident in SpaceX's ability as a launch partner throughout the Falcon 9 investigation," Iridium CEO Matt Desch said. "We are grateful for their transparency and hard work to plan for their return to flight. We are looking forward to the inaugural launch of Iridium NEXT, and what will begin a new chapter in our history."
The latest launch for technology billionaire Elon Musk’s ambitious effort will fire off a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located some 150 miles north of Los Angeles, at 12:36 p.m. PST (3:36 p.m. EST), and will deliver 10 of Iridium’s new global satellite constellation systems called Iridium Next into low-earth orbit.
The announcement comes three months after a highly publicized and panned launch on Sept.1 that saw a Falcon 9 rocket explode at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. A fireball engulfed the rocket, and while no one was hurt, the explosion, according to Musk, was caused by super-cooled oxygen reacting to carbon fiber in the rocket’s fuel tank.
“It was a really surprising problem,” Musk told CNBC on Nov. 6. “It’s never been encountered before in the history of rocketry.”
The explosion, while inflicting a major blow on Musk’s project, also destroyed a $200 million satellite built of Space Communication Ltd, an Israeli company, but Iridium told Reuters it has been assured SpaceX has solved the fueling problem.
“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.