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How a Breached Helium System Caused the SpaceX Falcon 9 Explosion

Sep 25, 2016 04:00 AM EDT

SpaceX was rocked literally and figuratively when a Falcon 9 rocket, supposed to take Facebook's Internet satellite to space, exploded while being fueled last Sept. 1 inside the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. Weeks after the "anomaly," SpaceX finally identified the cause of the explosion that destroyed a rocket and a satellite.

The Falcon 9 rocket that exploded on Sept. 1 was supposed to launch to space on Sept. 3. Immediately after the explosion, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk released a statement that the reason for the incident is being investigated. A few weeks after, SpaceX knows what to blame.

Apparently, the supposed launch was disrupted by a breach in helium pressurization system aboard the booster. The booster is equipped with second-stage liquid oxygen tank where the explosion could have originated. SpaceX officials are also adamant in saying that this is in now way related to the incident on June 28, 2015, where there was a recorded internal failure where a second stage helium pressurization bottle was released, causing the second stage to break and including the cargo ship.

But, according to SpaceX, other factors are also involved in the catastrophic event.

"At this stage of the investigation, a preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place," a SpaceX official said in a statement. "All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's ... mishap," the SpaceX official added.

Before liftoff, SpaceX usually performs test fires of its Merlin 1D engines to test the propulsion and launch system, which explains why the launch pad is already emptied and evacuated before the rocket exploded.

Fortunately, there were no casualties or injuries during the incident, but it had totally damaged the $62 million rocket, the $195 million satellite payload, and SpaceX' other mission are also directly affected, despite the company not releasing the exact damage to their operations the incident has incurred.

Nevertheless, SpaceX remains confident that they will be able to continuously deliver their agreement and scheduled projects to the company's partners, including NASA.


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