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‘Gas leak’ caused Falcon 9 explosion

Elon Musk-backed rocket company SpaceX says that a breach in its cryogenic helium tank, part of the second stage of the rocket’s oxygen tank seems to have caused the September 1st explosion.  The blast and following fireball destroyed a Spacecom of Israel’s satellite.  SpaceX says it anticipates returning the launch activity in November. However, there’s no information as to what caused the fracture in the first place.

SpaceX, in a statement late in the evening of Sept 23, stated: “At this stage of the investigation, 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. 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 CRS-7 mishap.”

That ‘CRS-7 mishap’ was also caused by a breach in the helium container but was blamed on a metal strut failing which caused helium to leak.

“The Accident Investigation Team (AIT), composed of SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the US Air Force, and industry experts, are currently scouring through approximately 3,000 channels of engineering data along with video, audio and imagery. The timeline of the event is extremely short – from first signs of an anomaly to loss of data is about 93 milliseconds or less than 1/10th of a second. The majority of debris from the incident has been recovered, photographed, labelled and catalogued, and is now in a hangar for inspection and use during the investigation.”

SpaceX continues: “The teams have continued inspections of [launch complex] LC-40 and the surrounding facilities. While substantial areas of the pad systems were affected, the Falcon Support Building adjacent to the pad was unaffected, and per standard procedure was unoccupied at the time of the anomaly. The new liquid oxygen farm – e.g. the tanks and plumbing that hold our super-chilled liquid oxygen – was unaffected and remains in good working order. The RP-1 (kerosene) fuel farm was also largely unaffected. The pad’s control systems are also in relatively good condition.”

“At SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA, our manufacturing and production is continuing in a methodical manner, with teams continuing to build engines, tanks, and other systems as they are exonerated from the investigation. We will work to resume our manifest as quickly as responsible once the cause of the anomaly has been identified by the Accident Investigation Team. Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe.”

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