FAA Grants License for SpaceX Falcon 9 Return to Flight

Vandenberg Air Force Base in California
SpaceX now has an FAA license for seven Falcon 9 launches of Iridium spacecraft from this launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (Image credit: SpaceX)

GRAPEVINE, Texas — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a launch license to SpaceX for the upcoming return to flight of its Falcon 9, although its planned launch has been delayed by at least one day.

FAA spokesman Hank Price said in a Jan. 6 statement that the agency had reviewed and accepted SpaceX’s investigation into its Sept. 1 pad explosion. That accident destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket being prepared for a static fire test in advance of the launch of the Amos-6 communications satellite. With the report accepted, FAA then issued the license required for the launch of the first batch of 10 Iridium Next satellites.

"The FAA accepted the investigation report on the Amos-6 mishap and has closed the investigation," Price said. "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." [Dramatic Video of SpaceX's Rocket Explosion]

SpaceX announced Jan. 2 that it had completed the investigation into the pad explosion, blaming the accident on composite overwrapped pressure vessels used to store helium in the liquid oxygen tank of the rocket’s upper stage. The aluminum liner of pressure vessel buckled and liquid oxygen pooled between the liner and carbon overwrap, which led to the failure of the pressure vessel.

At the time of the announcement, SpaceX said it had submitted its report to the FAA, but that the FAA was still reviewing it. Price said Jan. 5 that the FAA was still reviewing the report and continuing to work with the company.

The license, valid until January 2019, covers all seven planned Falcon 9 launches of Iridium spacecraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The license also authorizes SpaceX to attempt landings of the rocket’s first stage on a “droneship” in the Pacific Ocean downrange from the launch site.

The issuance of the license comes a day after SpaceX conduced a static-fire test of the Falcon 9 on the pad at Vandenberg. “Hold-down firing of @SpaceX Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Air Force completed. All systems are go for launch next week,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted Jan. 5.

When it released the results of its investigation into the September pad explosion Jan. 2, SpaceX stated that it was planning to carry out the launch Jan. 8. An Iridium spokesman said Jan. 6 that the launch has been delayed one day to Jan. 9, at 1:22 p.m. Eastern.

Weather, however, is not promising for a launch on either Jan. 9 or the next several days, with forecasts projecting cloudy skies and intermittent rain.

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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Jeff Foust
SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer

Jeff Foust is a Senior Staff Writer at SpaceNews, a space industry news magazine and website, where he writes about space policy, commercial spaceflight and other aerospace industry topics. Jeff has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor's degree in geophysics and planetary science from the California Institute of Technology. You can see Jeff's latest projects by following him on Twitter.