After targeting a return-to-flight mission on December 16th, SpaceX now says it’s next Falcon 9 flight will occur sometime in early January. The launch will still send a series of 10 small satellites into orbit for Iridium Communications, which was also the plan for the December mission. However, the date change will slightly prolong the company’s hiatus from spaceflight, which was sparked when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a launchpad in September.
The investigation into that accident is still being finalized
SpaceX says the investigation into that accident is still being finalized, though CEO Elon Musk said the company had essentially determined what caused the explosion. The delay will allow the company to “complete the final steps necessary to safely and reliably return to flight.” Launching in January will also give SpaceX time to do more preparation for the mission, as well as do more testing to make sure everything works smoothly, the company said.
If SpaceX had flown on December 16th, it would have been a remarkably short turnaround for a rocket company after experiencing an accident. When Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket exploded during launch in October 2014, it took the company about two years to fly the vehicle again (though the rocket did have to get its engine replaced beforehand). And United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno told Reuters that "it typically takes nine to 12 months for people to return to flight.”
However, SpaceX was able to return to flight just six months after its June 2015 accident, in which one of its Falcon 9 rockets disintegrated during launch.