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FAA grants SpaceX license to resume rocket launches on Monday

SCI & TECH
By Reuters | January 9th 2017
Elon Musk in Hong Kong, China January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company has been cleared to resume flying following a launch pad explosion four months ago, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday.

The decision clears SpaceX to attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 Iridium Communications Inc (IRDM.O) satellites as early as Monday, a day later than originally planned.

SpaceX, owned by Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) Chief Executive Officer Musk, on Friday declined to comment about what caused the delay.

Liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is targeted for around 10:22 a.m. PST/1:22 p.m. EST.

The FAA, which oversees commercial U.S. space launches, oversaw SpaceX’s investigation into why a Falcon 9 rocket burst into flames on a launch pad in Florida as it was being fueled for a routine, prelaunch test on Sept. 1.

The accident destroyed the $62 million booster and a $200 million Israeli communications satellite that had been partly leased by Facebook Inc (FB.O) to expand internet access in Africa.

“The FAA … has closed the investigation,” the agency said in a statement.

“SpaceX applied for a license to launch the Iridium NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The FAA has granted a license for that purpose,” the statement said.

The launch will be SpaceX’s first since August. The company has a backlog of more than 70 missions for NASA and commercial customers, worth more than $10 billion.

As a result of the accident investigation, SpaceX is changing the way it fuels its rockets to prevent canisters of helium, located inside liquid oxygen tanks, from bursting. The company said the long-term solution will be to redesign the helium canisters, which are made of an aluminum liner and a carbon overwrap. The helium is needed to maintain oxygen tank pressure.

The SpaceX rocket was briefly powered up on Thursday as part of a preflight engine test.

“All systems are go for launch next week,” Musk posted on Twitter.

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