SpaceX Blames Helium System for Explosion

     (CN) — The spectacular explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during a prelaunch test on Sept. 1 was the result of a sudden catastrophic breach in a helium pressurization system inside the booster’s second-stage liquid oxygen tank, the company said Friday.
     Without elaborating further, the company said a data review and “fault tree” analysis showed the problem was not related to the failure that released a second-stage helium pressurization bottle during a launch in June 2015 that destroyed a space station-bound cargo ship.
     While the second-stage helium system was involved in both incidents, a different problem was apparently involved in the Sept. 1 explosion.
     “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,” SpaceX said in a statement. “Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year’s mishap.”
     The incident earlier this month occurred as SpaceX was preparing the Falcon 9 rocket for launch to boost an Israeli communications satellite into orbit on Sept. 3. In a standard prelaunch test, the rocket was set for a planned first-stage main engine test firing on Sept. 1.
     SpaceX test-fires the nine Merlin 1D engines for several seconds before every launch to make sure propulsion and other critical launch systems are operating properly before committing a booster to flight.
     At 9:07 a.m., the second stage exploded, triggering a massive fireball of burning propellant that destroyed the $62 million rocket and its $195 million satellite payload. No one was injured.
     “The timeline of the event is extremely short. From the first signs of an anomaly to loss of data is about 93 milliseconds, or less than 1/10th of a second,” SpaceX said. “The majority of debris from the incident has been recovered, photographed, labeled and catalogued, and is now in a hangar for inspection and use during the investigation.”
     SpaceX engineers are continuing to build rockets at the company’s factory in Hawthorne, California.
     “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,” SpaceX said. “Pending the results of the investigation, we anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe.”

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