SpaceX Narrows Falcon 9 Investigation

SpaceX has narrowed the investigation into the cause of the Sept. 1 Falcon 9 rocket explosion on one of three containers inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank, the company announced Friday. Company investigators replicated the failure of the composite overwrapped pressure vessel “entirely through helium loading conditions,” which “are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded,” according to a release. SpaceX said it is now focused on finding the exact root cause of the fire that destroyed the rocket and its payload at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla. The company also is “developing improved helium loading conditions that allow SpaceX to reliably load Falcon 9,” according to the release. SpaceX said it plans to return to flight by the end of the year; it is scheduled to launch a GPS III satellite in May 2018. In a September letter sent to the leaders of the USAF, NASA, and the FAA, 10 members of Congress questioned whether the SpaceX rocket should continue to be certified for National Security Space missions in light of two Falcon 9 rocket explosions that have occurred within the last two years. The Space and Missiles Systems Center at Los Angeles AFB, Calif., told Air Force Magazine in an email that the service “has offered full support” after it was invited to observe and participate in the anomaly investigation process and will continue to monitor mission assurance before any National Security Space launch.