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SpaceX Back at Flight? Return Expected By January 8, After Conclusion of Explosion Investigation

Jan 03, 2017 11:40 AM EST

Mark the date: January 8. It's when the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - popularly known as SpaceX - is planning to get back on the proverbial horse and resume their rocket launches with some revisions on their practices due to the fireball incident a few months ago.

According to an official release on the SpaceX website, the space exploration company is working on getting things up and running for an Iridium NEXT launch on January 8, Sunday. Industry officials revealed on a Wall Street Journal report that this would depend on how smoothly more testing would go this week, but if all things go well, a launch for Iridium Communications Inc.'s next-generation satellites could very well occur in the upcoming weekend.

The investigation of the baffling explosion that happened at the Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida last September was conducted with the collaborative efforts of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US Air Force (USAF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other industry experts.

The SpaceX statement revealed that the officials watched over 3,000 video channels and telemetry data that may have played a part in the 93 milliseconds it took from the first sign of anomaly to the eventual loss of the vehicle. The investigative team also used ground data, video and debris, then conducted a number of tests in facilities located in California and Texas.

Ultimately, they were able to determine that the accident was caused by problems in the fueling procedures. Each stage of the vehicle used composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPV) to store cold helium, and each of these has an aluminum inner liner with buckles. Super chilled liquid oxygen can pool in these buckles and then get trapped here when pressurized. This leads to friction and ignition, causing COPV failure.

Also, colder loading temperatures of the helium could create solid oxygen, increasing the likelihood of trapped oxygen and friction.

To address these problems, the SpaceX plans to tweak the configuration of the COPV so warmer temperature helium could be loaded. They will also be reverting to a previous flight-proven configuration for helium loading operations. In the long-term, the actual design of the COPV will be changed so buckles are no longer necessary.

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