SpaceX Aims for Mid-December Return to Flight

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Although SpaceX has yet to make an official announcement, it appears that the company’s return to flight following the September 1st ‘anomaly’ that destroyed a Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral will come in less than two weeks, on December 16th. The news came via a press release from Iridium Communications, which confirms that SpaceX will a Falcon 9 carrying 10 of its Iridium NEXT spacecraft on December 16th. As the release, included below, points out, the date is contingent on SpaceX obtaining a launch approval from the FAA, a step which will necessarily follow the release of a mishap investigation report.

The flight, which will be from California’s Vandenberg AFB, will mark only the company’s third overall launch from California. The first was the initial launch of the Falcon 9 V1.1 in September of 2013 carrying Canada’s CASSIOPE spacecraft. The second was the January 17th, 2016 liftoff of the Jason-3 ocean topography satellite. That mission closed out the V1.1’s career, while also providing the first, albeit extremely fleeting example of a successful barge landing, one which quickly degraded when a support leg collapsed leading to the booster’s destruction.

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Falcon 9 Jason-3 Landing Attempt Credit: SpaceX

Iridium Announces Date for First Iridium NEXT Launch

SpaceX Set for First Launch of Iridium’s Next-Generation Global Satellite Constellation

MCLEAN, Va., Dec. 01, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Iridium Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:IRDM) announced today the date for the first launch of its next-generation global satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT. Iridium will be launching on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on December 16, 2016 at 12:36 p.m. PST. Launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Falcon 9 rocket will deliver 10 Iridium NEXT satellites into low-earth orbit.

This launch is contingent upon the FAA’s approval of SpaceX’s return to flight following the anomaly that occurred on September 1, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The investigation has been conducted with FAA oversight. Iridium expects to be SpaceX’s first return to flight launch customer.

“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,” said 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.”

Iridium NEXT will replace the world’s largest commercial satellite network of low-earth orbit satellites in what will be one of the largest “tech upgrades” in history. Iridium 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. The process of replacing the satellites one-by-one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before.

“We are looking forward to return to flight with the first Iridium NEXT launch,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “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 NEXT will enable the development of new and innovative products and solutions across Iridium’s vast partner ecosystem. Additionally, Iridium CertusSM, Iridium’s next-generation multi-service communications platform enabled by Iridium NEXT, will deliver faster speeds and higher throughputs across multiple industry verticals. A service of this quality and value is unprecedented in the industry, and is poised to disrupt the current market status quo. Currently, the service is set to be commercially available in 2017 and is undergoing testing on Iridium’s existing network.

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. For more information about Iridium NEXT, please visit www.iridium.com.

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