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The next launch of a Falcon 9 rocket is expected to occur in early January. (SpaceX Photo)

SpaceX says it expects to finish its investigation of September’s fiery loss of a Falcon 9 rocket and its payload in time for a return to flight in early January.

That launch is expected to send 10 Iridium Next communication satellites into orbit from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Over the past few weeks, officials at SpaceX and Iridium had been hinting that the launch might occur in mid-December, but today’s update extends the postponement a few more weeks.

“This 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.

A month ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the Sept. 1 launch pad explosion was traced to the way liquid helium was loaded into pressure vessels located within the Falcon 9’s tank of liquid oxygen propellant. The procedure chilled the oxygen so much that it turned into a solid, he said.

Musk suggested that the solid oxygen could have reacted explosively with the carbon composite tank.

The resulting blast destroyed the rocket as well as its payload, which included an Israeli-built satellite known as Amos-6 that was to have facilitated Facebook’s plans to provide internet access in Africa.

Although SpaceX is in charge of the investigation into the anomaly, the Federal Aviation Administration has to sign off on its findings and give its approval for the Iridium launch. Today’s update signals that SpaceX has settled on the root cause, that it has developed a way to avoid facing similar issues in the future, and that the approval process is on track for January.

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