The Sept. 1, 2016 explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., was triggered when “one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels [COPVs] inside the second stage liquid oxygen [LOX] tank failed,” the company announced on Monday. “Specifically, the investigation team concluded the failure was likely due to the accumulation of oxygen between the COPV liner and overwrap in a void or a buckle in the liner, leading to ignition and the subsequent failure of the COPV,” according to the company.
The Falcon 9 rocket makes use of a controversial rapid fueling process that requires low temperature fuel and has been called unsafe by some space experts, including NASA advisory panels, reported the Wall Street Journal. But while some changes in fueling operations are being implemented for near-term launches, SpaceX plans to continue using the method in the future. The company stated, “the corrective actions address all credible causes and focus on changes which avoid the conditions that led to these credible causes.” And while SpaceX is committed to “changing the COPV configuration to allow warmer temperature helium to be loaded” for now, “in the long term, SpaceX will implement design changes to the COPVs to prevent buckles altogether, which will allow for faster loading operations,” states the release.
SpaceX will resume launch operations on Jan. 8 at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., with a Falcon 9 rocket carrying an Iridium NEXT communications satellite. SpaceX worked in partnership with the FAA, the USAF, NASA, and the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause of the explosion, according to a company statement.