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Sunday, January 15, 2017, 10:59

SpaceX launches first rocket since explosion in Florida

By Associated Press
SpaceX launches first rocket since explosion in Florida
Space-X's Falcon 9 rocket with 10 satellites launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Jan 14, 2017. (Matt Hartman via AP)

LOS ANGELES — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Saturday and placed a constellation of satellites in orbit, marking the company's first launch since a fireball engulfed a similar rocket on a Florida launch pad more than four months ago.

In addition to commercial launches, SpaceX ferries supplies to the International Space Station and is developing a Falcon capable of carrying astronauts to the station

The two-stage rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:54 am carrying a payload for Iridium Communications Inc., which is replacing its entire global network with 70 next-generation satellites.

The satellites were deployed about an hour after launch.

About nine minutes after the rocket blasted off, to cheers from the control room, its jettisoned first stage landed upright on a so-called droneship in the Pacific Ocean south of Vandenberg — part of Spacex's effort to make boosters reusable.

The company has succeeded six times previously with landings on a barge or ashore.

A camera aboard the first stage gave viewers a you-are-there experience as it returned to Earth, flared landing rockets and made a perfect upright touchdown on the floating pad.

SpaceX launches first rocket since explosion in Florida
This NASA TV image shows SpaceX's unmanned Dragon cargo as it arrives at the International Space Station on April 10, 2016. ( AFP PHOTO / NASA TV)

The return to flight is an important step for SpaceX, billionaire Elon Musk's California-based company that has about 70 launches in line, worth more than $10 billion. In addition to commercial launches, SpaceX ferries supplies to the International Space Station and is developing a Falcon capable of carrying astronauts to the station.

SpaceX officials say they identified all possible causes of the Sept 1 accident during prelaunch testing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and took corrective action.

The accident destroyed the rocket and its payload — a satellite that Facebook wanted to use to spread internet access in Africa — and grounded the Falcon 9 program as an investigation took place.fe

SpaceX announced this month that investigators concluded the accident involved a failure of one of three helium tanks inside the rocket's second-stage liquid oxygen tank.

The investigation involved the Air Force, NASA, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which issued a license for the launch.

The September accident was the second time a Falcon 9 was destroyed. In June 2015, a Falcon loaded with space station supplies disintegrated shortly after liftoff. SpaceX determined that a support strut broke.

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