We’re just a few days into 2017, but it’s already looking a bit better than last year – for space fans at least. Because SpaceX has announced it is going to get back to launching rockets this Sunday, January 8, after finding out what caused one of its rockets to explode last September.
In a statement, SpaceX announced that it had now worked out what caused that explosion on September 1 after a collaborative investigation that included the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US Air Force (USAF), NASA, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The explosion happened while the rocket was on the ground during a routine test, meaning SpaceX had access to umbilical data, ground-based video, and physical debris. But there was just 93 milliseconds between the first anomalous data and the explosion, meaning finding the cause was difficult.
“The accident investigation team worked systematically through an extensive fault tree analysis and concluded that one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank failed,” SpaceX said.
“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.”
A replay of the explosion in September. USLaunchReport
SpaceX said they had overcome this failure in the short term by taking “corrective actions”, which include loading warmer temperature helium into the rocket. In the future, the company is planning to redesign the COPV, to prevent this happening again.
The launch on Sunday will take place from Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 4E in California. The Falcon 9 rocket will take the Iridium-1 satellite for communications provider Iridium into low Earth orbit. Iridium has said they supported SpaceX’s decision to delay the launch until January, and remained “as confident as ever” in SpaceX’s ability to carry out a successful launch.
If everything goes to plan, this will be SpaceX’s first flight since the launch of the JCSAT-16 satellite on August 14, 2016. And it comes at a good time, as SpaceX has a considerable backlog of launches to get through.
It is also planning to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket this year, which will be the most powerful rocket in operation today. The company teased a photo of the rocket recently, although a firm date for the launch has not yet been revealed.