SpaceX Releases Preliminary Analysis - Strut Failure Likely Cause [With Audio]

April 22, 2016 – 08:10 am

"From the first indication of an issue to loss of all telemetry was just 0.893 seconds. Over the last few weeks, engineering teams have spent thousands of hours going through the painstaking process of matching up data across rocket systems down to the millisecond to understand that final 0.893 seconds prior to loss of telemetry.

At this time, the investigation remains ongoing, as SpaceX and the investigation team continue analyzing significant amounts of data and conducting additional testing that must be completed in order to fully validate these conclusions. However, given the currently available data, we believe we have identified a potential cause."

Marc's note: Today Elon Musk of SpaceX stressed that the substance of the media briefing was preliminary analysis and not a definitive result.

Having said the likely cause of the failed Falcon 9 launch was a failed strut that broke free in the second stage liquid oxygen tank that was holding down a helium tank.

At approximately 3.2 g, the strut holding down the tank snapped. There was no evidence of damage prior to launch from close-out photos. The struts are not made in-house. The supplier was not named. Musk said that they were able to replicate failure with 1000's of struts and they found a few that did not meet specifications.

In future SpaceX will test each strut individually in-house to certify them and will most likely move to a different material and supplier.

Addressing the issue is pretty straightforward and may only delay the next launch a few months. However, Musk indicated that the delay would be costly to SpaceX, perhaps in the 100's of millions.

Musk also noted that if the Dragon capsule, version 1, had updated software, which will be on Dragon V2, that they could have deployed the chutes and saved the capsule. The next Dragon launch, also a version 1, will have the updated software.

The Falcon Heavy which was to have launched in Q1 next year will likely slip to Q2 with Musk saying, perhaps April.

SpaceX briefed its customers last week and all are still showing their support. He also indicated that the failure will not affect the commercial crew timeline.

Musk indicated a statement would be issued after the conference call and we'll post it as soon as it's available.


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