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SpaceX returns to orbit after successful launch

16 January 2017

A SpaceX Falcon rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on January 16, the first since a launch pad explosion destroyed a Falcon and its payload in September. The launch placed 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites into low-Earth orbit and the first stage of the rocket successfully touched down on a platform in the Pacific Ocean, and two other returning Falcon boosters also landed safely.

Image: SpaceX
Image: SpaceX

The mission tested changes implemented by SpaceX, owned and run by entrepreneur Elon Musk, following the September explosion. Accident investigators determined that a canister of helium burst inside the rocket's second-stage liquid oxygen tank, triggering the explosion. The canister is being redesigned, but until then SpaceX is addressing the issue by modifying its fuelling procedures.

The explosion destroyed a $62 million SpaceX booster and a$200 million Israeli communications satellite that it was to put into orbit two days later. The accident affected the company's aggressive agenda, which includes ferrying US astronauts into space next year.

Saturday's flight begins to clear a logjam of more than 70 planned missions, worth more than $10 billion, involving SpaceX Falcon rockets, which last flew successfully in August.

The launch is the first in a seven-flight contract with Iridium worth $468.1 million.

SpaceX aims to launch 27 rockets in 2017, more than three times the eight flights the company managed in 2016,according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The company's 2017 agenda includes the debut launch of a heavy-lift booster, flying its first reused rocket and repairing the Florida launchpad damaged in the explosion.

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