Specifically, it appears that a two-foot-long steel strut - one of several hundred built into the Falcon 9, responsible for holding the rocket's helium tanks in place - snapped in half, failing under 2, 000 pounds of stress, despite being designed to withstand 10, 000 pounds. What happened next is uncertain. But with two pieces of hardware rattling around within a pressurized metal tube straining under more than three "Gs" of acceleration - plus a loose helium bottle they were supposed to hold in place possibly tossed into the mix - it probably wasn't good.
Long story short, the rocket blew up - but it was neither the rocket's fault, nor the fault of the rocket maker, SpaceX.
Round up the usual suspects
Rather, SpaceX is (tentatively) placing the blame on a supplier of metal struts that it declines to name. Multiple companies supply such struts to the aerospace industry, including Sweden's SKF Group (whose strut is pictured above), Goodrich Aerospace, and even SpaceX rival Boeing . Wherever SpaceX bought its faulty strut, the company says the part seemed sound when installed - but apparently wasn't. Subsequent tests of other struts in SpaceX's inventory have revealed instances of "weakness in the material." This suggests a quality-control issue that could have originated with the strut's manufacturer ... or even farther up the supply chain, at the factory that smelted the metal used to make the strut.
SpaceX is taking steps to ensure no more bad struts make their way onto SpaceX spaceships in the future. The company is switching suppliers, first of all, which may eliminate the problem at its source. SpaceX is also instituting "additional hardware quality audits ... to further ensure all parts received perform as expected per their certification documentation." And just in case, it's upping the tolerances on the parts it buys, to ensure each strut "has an even higher margin of safety."
What it means for SpaceX ... and for its rivals
All of this will take time, of course. Combined with the time needed to finalize its review of the "SpaceXplosion", and confirm it was indeed a faulty strut that caused the disaster, SpaceX says it's probably going to have to push off its next Falcon 9 flight into September.
According to Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, the delay will cost the company "hundreds of millions" in lost revenue, but will result in a safer spacecraft and happier customers in the long run.
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