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New clues point to what caused SpaceX rocket explosion

New clues point to what caused SpaceX rocket explosion

This could have cause the fibers stress and generate friction, resulting in ignition of the fibers in the super-oxygenated environment and the failure of the bottle, which flooded the oxygen tank with helium making it overpressure, fail, and produce the final explosion.

It is unclear when SpaceX plans to resume launches in Cape Canaveral.

If it's successful, the next launch, tentatively schedule for Sunday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, will put 10 satellites into orbit to upgrade and replace some of the units in the Iridium Communications satellite constellation, a system of 66 satellites that provide voice and data coverage around the world. The tests were being conducted to confirm the reason of the explosion of Falcon 9 rocket on the launchpad during the pre-fueling session.

SpaceX is targeting a Sunday, Jan. 8, return to flight of its Falcon 9 rocket from California, where the company will adjust fueling procedures believed responsible for a September 1 explosion that destroyed a rocket and satellite on their Cape Canaveral launch pad. Along with liquid oxygen, the tank also houses three smaller vessels that store really cold helium.

Investigators concluded the explosion was caused by a cascade of material failures and corrosive events triggered by rapid temperature and pressure changes. The launch date is contingent upon Federal Aviation Administration approval, according to satellite manufacturer Iridium. Additionally, the helium in these vessels is incredibly cold too - so cold that it may have caused the pooled liquid oxygen to turn into a solid. Then, some of the carbon fibers wrapping the helium vessel may have snapped, causing friction that ignited the trapped oxygen. In the long run, however, SpaceX is planning to redesign the vessels so that buckles aren't even possible. SpaceX said in a statement that it expects to return to flight on January 8.

The end of the investigation is also likely to clear the way for the first flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, a heavy-lift rocket that's due to make its debut this year.

Additionally, SpaceX will implement design changes to the COPVs to eliminate buckles altogether, and allow for faster loading operations. After taking steps to ensure all internal struts met design specifications, SpaceX launched nine successful missions in a row before the September 1 launch pad disaster, all of them using densified propellants.

The Iridium launch next week will mark the third Falcon 9 mission from the West Coast complex, and the 29th Falcon 9 launch overall since SpaceX's workhorse booster debuted in June 2010.

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