SpaceX’s return to flight tentatively set for Dec. 16 from Vandenberg AFB

SpaceX is set to take stage again in December with the launch of a series of next-generation satellites into orbit on top of its Falcon 9 rocket.

Iridium Communications, a satellite operator which supplies voice and data services world-wide, issued a news release indicating plans to deploy 10 satellites with launch partner SpaceX, with the first deployment slated for December 16 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This is the first time we’re hearing of a specific return-to-flight date following September’s catastrophic explosion during a routine pre-flight test. The incident would ultimately ground all future flights and lead to a full investigation by federal agencies on the cause for the rocket explosion.

Iridium’s announcement on Thursday strongly suggests that a final investigation report will be issued by SpaceX in the coming days to federal authorities, and an agreement has been reached with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the company to resume flights as early as Dec. 16.

Iridium’s chief, Matt Desch, said via WSJ, “We have remained confident in SpaceX’s ability as a launch partner,” adding, “we are grateful for their transparency and hard work to plan for their return to flight.”

Though SpaceX has not revealed dates on when it would resume launches, a spokesperson to Elon Musk’s space company says, “We’re finalizing the investigation and its accompanying report, and aim to return to flight in December”.

By early 2018, Iridium expects to deploy 60 more of its satellites using six Falcon 9 rockets. With nearly $10 billion worth of international launch contracts pending, including a new contract with NASA to send its Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) vehicle into orbit, there’s a lot at stake for the young startup space company. SpaceX will need to convince commercial enterprises, and the U.S. government, that it has taken action to prevent future catastrophes and can reliably complete launch missions.

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