SpaceX rocket aiming to fly again next week after accident

An unmanned Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket launches in Cape Canaveral, Florida, June 28, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Berrigan

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - Privately-owned Space Exploration Technologies is aiming to return its repaired Falcon 9 rocket to flight next week, following a launch accident six months ago, the company said on Thursday.

For its mission on Dec. 19, the California-based SpaceX plans to launch 11 small commercial communications satellites for ORBCOMM Inc, which provides machine-to-machine messaging services, such as between retailers and shipping containers.

SpaceX, which has a backlog of 60 missions worth about $8 billion, has been grounded since June 28 when its 19th Falcon 9 rocket exploded minutes after launch.

Investigators traced the problem to a faulty support beam that held a bottle of helium inside the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen tank.

The rocket exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, destroying a load of cargo heading to the International Space Station for NASA.

SpaceX says it switched to a new supplier for the steel struts, several hundred of which are used in the rockets, and upgraded its testing program.

The next Falcon 9 rocket also incorporates several previously planned upgrades, including a more powerful first-stage engine and a beefed up landing system. SpaceX has been working to return its first-stage boosters back to Earth intact so they can be refurbished and reflown, potentially slashing launch costs.

Previous attempts to land the rockets on a platform in the ocean have not been successful. SpaceX has built a landing pad near its Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site and may attempt a touchdown on land on its next mission.

Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Curtis Skinner and Alistair Bell