UPDATE – 12/7: SpaceX won’t launch again until January. “We are finalizing the investigation into our September 1 anomaly and are working to complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight, now in early January with the launch of Iridium-1,” the statement reads.
SpaceX said they wanted to return to flight in December and appears Elon Musk and company are going to do just that.
Today’s announcement doesn’t come from SpaceX. It’s from their customer. Iridium, a satellite communications provider, updated the status of their NEXT satellite launches.
According to the company, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch into the skies above California carrying 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-Earth orbit.
Did You Know: Iridium is replacing its existing constellation with at least 70 Iridium NEXT satellites. The company is working with SpaceX to send the satellites into low-Earth orbit across seven different launches. December 16’s launch will mark the first of seven planned launches spread across the next year or so.
“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,” says Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium. “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.”
SpaceX’s President and COO Gwynne Shotwell echoed Desch’s comments. “We are looking forward to return to flight with the first Iridium NEXT launch. Iridium has been a great partner for nearly a decade, and we appreciate their working with us to put their first 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit.”
This month’s launch hinges on FAA approval
The launch date sounds like a done deal based on the statements from Iridium and SpaceX, but the launch is still pending FAA’s approval of SpaceX’s return to flight.
SpaceX’s fleet of Falcon 9 rockets has remained grounded since the explosion of one of its rockets in September. Investigators determined the problem was tied to a breach in the helium system during fueling.
The FAA will want to see that SpaceX has found the root problem and fixed it before giving approval for return to flight. Doing that in just four months will be huge for SpaceX. Getting back to flight from accidents like this can take up to a year, according to United Launch Alliance’s chief executive Tony Bruno.
We should hear about approval (or not) from the FAA shortly. If the FAA gives the green light, SpaceX will return to the skies on December 16 at 12:36 pm PST (3:36 pm EST).