The official probe into a Sept. 1 launch-pad explosion continues, but SpaceX’s aim of resuming Falcon 9 missions this year just might prove doable.
That’s because the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has been able to demonstrate that improper fuel-filling procedures could cause the rocket’s helium tank to explode. In recent weeks, SpaceX execs have floated the idea that fuel-filling procedures were to blame and not any Falcon 9 component.
Meantime, SpaceX, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration continue to investigate the explosion of a Falcon 9 and its pricey-satellite payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Investigators quickly focused their attentions on the rocket’s liquid oxygen system, but it wasn’t until Oct. 29 that SpaceX revealed it had been able to show that improper fueling could cause the fuel systems helium tank to explode
“We have conducted tests at our facility in McGregor, Texas, attempting to replicate as closely as possible the conditions that may have led to the mishap,” SpaceX said. “Previously, we announced the investigation was focusing on a breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank. … Through extensive testing in Texas, SpaceX has shown that it can re-create a (composite over-wrapped pressure vessel) failure entirely through helium-loading conditions. These conditions are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.
“SpaceX’s efforts are now focused on two areas — finding the exact root cause, and developing improved helium- loading conditions that allow SpaceX to reliably load Falcon 9,” the company added. “With the advanced state of the investigation, we also plan to resume stage testing in Texas in the coming days, while continuing to focus on completion of the investigation. This is an important milestone on the path to returning to flight.”
SpaceX — not known for caution in its public statements about timetables — initially had said it might return to flight as early as November.