Spacex targets January 8, 2017 return to flight

Spacex plans to resume rocket launches on Jan. 8, using revised operational practices developed in response to a fiery accident that occurred during routine ground preparations last fall.

The tentative blastoff date for the Falcon 9 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base is subject to results of testing later this week, industry officials said, and still could change.

But if everything checks out, Iridium Communications Inc., which has been eagerly waiting to get the first 10 of its next-generation communications satellites into orbit since the September 2016 fireball, can anticipate a launch next Sunday morning.

SpaceX said the extensive investigation concluded the accident “was likely due to accumulation of oxygen” between the vessel’s aluminum liner and what is called the composite overwrap. The company said testing revealed that supercooled fuel can pool in “a void or buckle in the liner,” subsequently breaking carbon fibers or creating an ignition source.

But the statement also highlighted the complex, somewhat tentative nature of the detailed conclusions. SpaceX noted that in the end, investigators “identified several credible causes” for the failure of the helium container, and that “corrective actions address all credible causes.”