SpaceX in partnership with space and federal safety agencies including NASA and FAA have put an end to their investigation of an explosion incident that took place in September last year. The incident took place on one of the launch pads at Cape Canaveral during which one of the SpaceX rockets had exploded. The stringent investigation included a detailed analysis of all data recording of that day and reactively running tests at the Hawthorne, CA and McGregor, TX facilities of SpaceX.
It was found that due to the failure of a pressure vessel that is placed inside a tank for storing liquid oxygen, the Falcon 9 rocket had exploded. It was also pointed out in the investigation report that the explosion occurred during pre-launch fueling which was also the rocket’s second stage fuel burn. It was noted that oxygen got built up between a lining and the overwrap of the vessel and the loading cold helium made matters worse by turning this extra liquid oxygen into solid that led to the explosion during this stage of fueling. The rocket along with its $195 million worth of payload was destroyed causing massive damage to the launch pad. To everyone’s surprise, the entire ordeal happened in less than just 93 milliseconds from the initial signs of trouble. SpaceX has assured the investing committee that they will be bringing in a reconciliation system of densified propellants to prevent this immediately and will also enact a long-term fix to address any such problem.
With the closure of the investigation, SpaceX aims to get back in the action and launch on January 8 with its client Iridium Satellites. Interestingly a Falcon 9 only will be used for this launch, geared towards the task of delivering ten Iridium satellite to orbit which will be used to create a telecom network for voice and data capabilities. The payload of these ten satellites is already loaded into the transport capsule of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, ready to take on the task.
It has not been disclosed yet when SpaceX plans to reopen Cape Canaveral and resume operations there. Launch complex 40 here was heavily damaged during the incident in September. In order to meet the timeline of Iridium Satellite order, SpaceX will be using a repurposed space shuttle launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center which is nearby, for this next Falcon 9 flight from Florida. According to sources, presumably the first flight from here will be for this commercial order and next however will be SpaceX’s 10th flight under its contract with NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
What remains to be seen is if SpaceX indeed meets their launch window and successfully complete the mission. This will not only be an industry benchmark for turnaround time after an accident to launch but will also do a huge favor to SpaceX’s public image and restore the faith of its clients on its capabilities to deliver.