Breach in Cryogenic Helium System Linked to Falcon 9 Explosion, SpaceX Says

SpaceX says a breach in the fueling system of a Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage is to blame for an explosion earlier this month.

The Sept. 1 Cape Canaveral explosion, which destroyed Facebook's Amos-6 satellite, has a very short timeline.

An Accident Investigation Team (AIT) made up of members of SpaceX, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and other industry experts was formed in response to the incident, are poring over data from 3,000 different sources that include engineering data, audio, video, and still imagery.

Most of the wreckage has been recovered and is being analyzed.

The data and debris indicate "a large breach" in the helium system of the second-stage liquid oxygen tank. "All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated", the company stated in its update. The company says that Cape Canaveral's Launch Pad 40, where the rocket went up in flames, took the brunt of the damage and "substantial areas of the pad systems were affected". Just 93 milliseconds passed between initial signs of a failure and the rocket's explosion during the test, which is created to test the rocket's engines before they lift off.

The rocket was destroyed in the incident, along with its $200m satellite payload.

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The failure began in the Falcon 9's second stage and quickly escalated as propellants began burning.

On Friday, a report was issued by the company regarding the explosion in which SpaceX explained that the anomaly that occurred at their Launch Complex 40, was still an ongoing investigation.

The tank over-pressurized and ruptured as the helium spilled from its composite container, according to SpaceX, which said it would no longer use the same type of strut - provided by an external suppler - in future launches.

SpaceX said the event that triggered a series of massive explosions and fireballs occurred in less than a 10th of a second.

SpaceX said the launch pad sustained damage, but nearby infrastructure - including fuel and oxidizer tanks - were unharmed. The launch pad endured significant effects from the explosion, though its control systems remain intact.

A number of important SpaceX customers, including commercial-satellite operators and military officials, have expressed support for the company.

  • Douglas Reid