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SpaceX reveals cause of September explosion


SpaceX reported today that it has concluded its investigation into the explosion of one of its rockets on the launch pad in Cape Canaveral late a year ago.

"SpaceX is targeting return to flight from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) with the Iridium NEXT launch on January 8", the company said in an update on the investigation into the September 1 "anomaly".

"When pressurized, oxygen pooled in this buckle can become trapped; in turn, breaking fibers or friction can ignite the oxygen in the overwrap", SpaceX explained in today's update.

In the long term, SpaceX said it will apply a permanent fix to this problem by implementing design changes to the COPVs that should prevent buckles altogether.

In a statement, SpaceX said it expected to launch a Falcon 9 rocket from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base on January 8 to put 10 satellites into orbit for Iridium Communications Inc. Since the accident did not involve the rocket fuels themselves, Ars understands that the new procedures will not substantially affect the performance gains of the full thrust Falcon 9 for upcoming launches. Additionally, investigators believe that when that cold helium was loaded, its temperature was cold enough to create solid oxygen, making ignition more likely.

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Last month, Elon Musk unveiled his most ambitious project yet - an "Interplanetary Transport System" to take mankind to Mars in 80 days and build a sustainable human colony of a million people there. The bottles, known as composite overwrap pressure vessels, or COPVs, are mounted inside the propellant tanks, submerged in frigid liquid oxygen and chilled kerosene. The launch date is contingent upon Federal Aviation Administration approval, according to satellite manufacturer Iridium.

"SpaceX greatly appreciates the support of our customers and partners throughout this process, and we look forward to fulfilling our manifest in 2017 and beyond", the company said in a statement.

The announcement confirms the company's September hypothesis about the cause of the blast, and comes after engineers combed through 3,000 channels of video and telemetry covering the 93 milliseconds from the first anomalous data to the earth-shattering kaboom.

For weeks after the accident, Musk did not rule out the possibility that someone might have fired a shot at the rocket.

The space agency relies upon SpaceX to deliver cargo to and from the space station, and also hopes to see the company launch astronauts to the outpost in early 2018. A new Falcon 9 rocket will carry a 10-pack of communication satellites into space for Iridium Communications.

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