spaceSpace and Physics

We Now Sort Of Know Why SpaceX’s Rocket Exploded


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

At the start of September, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets exploded during a routine test on Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. It was not the best of times for the company.

Since then, an investigation has been ongoing between SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, and the US Air Force to work out what happened and prevent it from occurring again. And we’ve now got an answer. Sort of.


In an update posted online, SpaceX said there was a “large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank.” The result of this breach was the explosion, which destroyed the rocket and Israel’s AMOS-6 satellite on board. The event that caused the explosion happened in less than one-tenth of a second according to SpaceX.

However, the company admits it still does not know what caused this breach. “All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated,” said SpaceX. A number of theories abound, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

SpaceX was able to confirm, though, that it may return to flight as soon as November. Launch Complex 40 was left unusable by the explosion, although in their release SpaceX seemed to hint the damage was not as bad as expected.

But the company has other pads it can use. It is busy upgrading another at Cape Canaveral, Launch Complex 39A, and has another at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California it can use (for different launches into different orbit than from Cape Canaveral).


If they can work out what caused the breach, and it is not an unsolvable issue, then a return to flight in November doesn’t seem too unlikely.

“Getting back to flight safely and reliably is our top priority, and the data gathered from the present investigation will result in an even safer and more reliable vehicle for our customers and partners,” SpaceX noted.


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