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SpaceX now hopes to return to flight in January, not this month

SpaceX said Wednesday that it is now targeting early January for its first flight after a September explosion that destroyed one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

SpaceX said it is now targeting early January for its first flight after a September explosion that destroyed one of its Falcon 9 rockets.

The Elon Musk-led company said in a statement Wednesday that it is "finalizing the investigation" into the explosion and is "working to complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight."

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The new date "allows for additional time to close out vehicle preparations and complete extended testing to help ensure the highest possible level of mission assurance prior to launch," SpaceX said.

Three months ago, one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, destroying a commercial communications satellite that was to be managed by Israeli satellite operator Spacecom.

Musk has described the cause of the explosion as something that has "never been encountered before in the history of rocketry."

As of last week, an investigation into the cause of the explosion was still ongoing, though the company had narrowed its focus to one of three composite-overwrapped pressure vessels that hold helium in the rocket's second-stage liquid oxygen tank.

In October, SpaceX said it could re-create a failure in the vessel "entirely through helium loading conditions," suggesting this could be a cause of the explosion.

SpaceX — which is based in Hawthorne and whose full name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — affirmed Wednesday that the customer for its next launch will be Iridium Communications Inc., which plans to launch 10 satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

Iridium said in a statement that it supports SpaceX's decision to move its launch date to January "in order to help ensure a successful mission."

"We remain as confident as ever in their ability to safely deliver our satellites into low Earth orbit," Iridium said.

The McLean, Va., satellite communications firm said last week that SpaceX could return to flight Dec. 16, pending Federal Aviation Administration approval. Last month, Musk predicted SpaceX could start launching again in mid-December.

For more business news, follow me @smasunaga

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UPDATES:

9:25 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comment from SpaceX and Iridium.

This article was originally published at 8:15 a.m.

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