The company’s founder and chief executive, Musk told reporters during a Monday briefing that they are looking at a broken strut in the second stage liquid oxygen tank, which was holding a helium tank.
But he also sounded as if he were giving a business-school lecture on how a successful startup can retain its innovative culture and edge as it grows into a corporate behemoth. That’s all we can say with confidence right now. Though Musk was not apportioning blame, he said that the struts came from an outside vendor and tests on samples indicated that they were not performing to specifications. Musk spoke last night about the embarrassing explosion of a SpaceX rocket shortly after takeoff last month. “It failed at five times below its nominal strength, which is pretty mad”, Musk said. “You learn what the accident taught, you incorporate it into your designs, your fixes, and hopefully spread that through the system so that NASA, the Air Force, your competitors, everybody learns from everybody else”, Musk said. The investigation however believes that once the strut snapped, the container collapsed and overloaded the oxygen tank with helium, exerting too much pressure that led to explosion. The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft will hitch a ride to space aboard the Heavy’s first operational flight, which had been roughly scheduled for Fall 2016.
SpaceX has been founded in 2002 by Musk. “It’s not something that should ever have failed at this force level”.
Figuring out what went wrong is a make or break task for SpaceX. They also plan to do their own tests of each strut placed on a launch vehicle in the future, and rely on their in-house certification of the performance standards rather than the manufacturers.
The likely culprit was a single, two-foot-long, one-inch-thick steel component called a strut.
He declined to name the manufacturer.
“It’s proving to be quite a puzzle”, added Mr. Musk. “So far, the investigation is not showing any other issues”. The upper stage exploded, sending a Dragon capsule packed with cargo plunging into the Atlantic Ocean. During today’s teleconference, Musk said that all versions of Dragon will be equipped with this software in the future. “If the software had initiated the parachute deployment, the Dragon spacecraft would have survived”, Musk said. Directly following the launch failure, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX COO and president attributed the anomaly to an over-pressurization of the upper stage.
“This will result in some cost increase to the rocket, but not, we believe, of a significant amount”, said Musk.
The company is not yet ready to announce the date for the next launch of Falcon 9, due to the preliminary nature of the investigation’s findings and ongoing discussions with customers and government regulators.
“Every one of our customers has been supportive”, he said. He does not expect the delays to affect the company’s commercial crew launch timeline.
The video below shows the explosion of the Falcon 9 (2:20min) on June 28.
The explosion happened just over two minutes after the rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Now its ranks have swelled to about 4,000, Musk said.
When the company lost a string of rockets in its early days, there were only 500 people working at SpaceX, he said. “The vast number of people we have at the company today have only seen success”.
“The 20th time I send that email it just seems like it’s Elon being paranoid again”, he said.