Explosion that destroyed Falcon rocket, Facebook satellite possibly due to gas tank breach

HAWTHORNE, Calif., Sept. 23 (UPI) — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that exploded on the launch pad earlier this month and destroyed a valuable satellite may have resulted from a leak in its cryogenic helium system, the company said Friday.

SpaceX attempted to launch the locket at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sept. 1. AMOS-6 mission controllers said the “catastrophic abort” occurred during a stationary test firing of the rocket’s engines.

The aerospace company said in an update Friday that it has been working with NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and industry experts to try and determine the cause for weeks.

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“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. “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.”

SpaceX said investigators are looking at any and all possible causes of the accident, which blew up a $95 million Facebook communications satellite that was scheduled to launch just days after the explosion.

“I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Sept. 1.

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In its update, SpaceX said various equipment and infrastructure near the launch pad were not damaged.

“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,” the company said. “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.

“We anticipate returning to flight as early as the November timeframe.”

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