SpaceX narrows explosion investigation but still hasn’t found root cause

This Sept. 8, 2016, photo shows the damaged SpaceX launch complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
(Red Huber / Florida Today via AP)

SpaceX said Friday it has narrowed its investigation into the September explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket, though a root cause of the fiery failure has not been confirmed.

The Hawthorne space company said it is focusing on one of three composite overwrapped pressure vessels that store helium inside the liquid oxygen tank on the rocket’s second stage. Last month, SpaceX said investigators had determined that a breach had occurred in the helium system, which is used to pressurize the liquid oxygen tank.

The exterior of the composite overwrapped pressure vessels is made of structural fibers and resin.


The company said it was able to recreate a failure in the vessel “entirely through helium loading conditions,” which are affected mainly by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.

“SpaceX’s efforts are now focused on two areas — finding the exact root cause, and developing improved helium loading conditions that allow SpaceX to reliably load Falcon 9,” the company said in a statement on its website.

The company also will resume testing the first-stage rocket booster in Texas in preparation for its return to flight. SpaceX said it is still working to launch before the end of the year.

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