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SpaceX Wraps Up Falcon 9 Investigation, Returns To Flight With Jan. 8 Iridium Satellite Launch

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SpaceX has announced the return of its flight services on Jan. 8 with a launch of new satellites. The company also announced the closure of the investigation into the September explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and a commercial communications satellite.

The company clarified that it would launch the new satellites on Jan. 8 pending approval by the Federal Aviation Administration. Under the plan, the Elon Musk-led company will launch 10 satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket for Iridium Communications from the Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The constellation of satellites is aiming to provide mobile communications capabilities on land, ships and airplanes.

At present, SpaceX has a backlog of 70 missions to execute and an estimated $10 billion is tied up with them.

SpaceX suspended the flight services of Falcon 9 rockets after the explosion and was looking at resumption of services by November 2016.

Detailed Investigation

According to the latest anomaly update issued by the company, the probe team scanned nearly 3,000 channels of video and telemetry data and found the cause of failure in a pressure vessel inside the liquid oxygen tank.

Noting that "buckles" have been found in the inner liners of composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs), which are used in storing liquid helium, SpaceX said chilled liquid oxygen might have been trapped inside the vessels and triggered the blast.

"Although buckles were not shown to burst a COPV on their own, investigators concluded that super-chilled liquid oxygen can pool in these buckles under the overwrap. When pressurized, oxygen pooled in this buckle can become trapped; in turn, breaking fibers or friction can ignite the oxygen in the overwrap, causing the COPV to fail," SpaceX explained in the anomaly update.

September Setback

The explosion of Falcon 9 on Sept. 1 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida destroyed the $62 million rocket and a $200 million communications satellite.

The incident was a big setback for the company as it destroyed both the rocket and its payload. It also wrought significant damage to LC-40, the primary launch site of SpaceX.

The destroyed satellite, AMOS-6 communications satellite, was manufactured by Israeli company Spacecom for Facebook, which was planning to expand internet access in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

The accident also cost the company as it lost a major order from the British satellite communications company Inmarsat.

Remedial Measures

SpaceX updated that to mitigate such incidents, it is looking to revamp fueling procedures to pre-empt the buildup of super-cold liquid oxygen between the helium canisters.

"In the long term, SpaceX will implement design changes to the COPVs to prevent buckles altogether," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Iridium welcomed the resumption of launch services by SpaceX.

"Iridium is pleased with SpaceX's announcement on the results of the September 1 anomaly as identified by their accident investigation team and their plans to target a return to flight," said the company's spokeswoman Diane Hockenberry.

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