WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) - SpaceX, the space transport company of Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, is likely to launch its first Falcon 9 rocket since September's launchpad explosion on December 16. SpaceX's satellite launch customer Iridium Communications Inc. (IRDM) announced Thursday that its next-generation global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT, will be launched on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, subject to approval from Federal Aviation Administration.
In its statement, Iridium noted that the Falcon 9 rocket will deliver 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-earth orbit. Iridium said it expects to be SpaceX's first return to flight launch customer.
The launch is conditional on approval from Federal Aviation Administration or FAA of SpaceX's return to flight following the explosion of one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets that occurred on September 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The investigation has been conducted with FAA oversight.
Matt Desch, chief executive officer at Iridium, said, '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's NEXT will replace the world's largest commercial satellite network of low-earth orbit satellites in one of the largest tech upgrades. The company has partnered with Thales Alenia Space for the manufacturing, assembly and testing of 81 Iridium NEXT satellites, at least 70 of which will be launched by SpaceX.
Meanwhile, Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said, '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.'
Iridium's primary launch campaign consists of seven SpaceX Falcon 9 launches, deploying ten Iridium NEXT satellites at a time. These 70 Iridium NEXT satellites are scheduled to be deployed by early 2018.
The tentative date comes three months after one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, destroying a commercial communications satellite that was to be managed by Israeli satellite operator Spacecom.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket explosion is currently being investigated by the FAA, NASA, and the US Air Force, and a full accident report will be released soon.
The rocket exploded destroying Amos 6 satellite as it was getting ready to deliver the commercial communications satellite into space. In early November, Elon Musk had said that the helium tanks inside the Falcon 9 caused the explosion. He also said the company could start launching again in mid-December.
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