Matt Kamlet, CBS Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Southern California-based SpaceX on Monday released a preliminary summary addressing the loss of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and failure of the CRS-7 mission that occurred in June.
After liftoff of the Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral in Florida on June 28, systems appeared to be normal through the launch’s first stage, but 139 seconds into flight, the vehicle experienced overpressure in the upper-stage oxygen tank and suffered catastrophic failure. Its payload, which consisted of the international docking adapter and other payloads, was lost.
According to preliminary analysis, a faulty strut inside the vehicle’s second stage may have led to the overpressure event that resulted in the loss of the Falcon 9.
“Several hundred struts fly on every Falcon 9 vehicle, with a cumulative flight history of several thousand, ” SpaceX said Monday on its website. “The strut that we believe failed was designed and material certified to handle 10, 000 pounds of force but failed at 2, 000 pounds, a five-fold difference.”
Initial findings suggest one of these small pieces of support hardware inside the Falcon 9’s second stage appeared to have failed at the 138-second mark, directly preceding the rocket’s deterioration.
This may have caused the helium system to to be compromised. Under this high-pressure event, the vehicle’s second stage was no longer able to hold together structurally.
SpaceX announced that while these struts had been used on previous Falcon 9 launches, the company will no longer use them for flights. Furthermore, the company will include additional audits for hardware that requires certification.
A crew of U.S. astronauts was announced July 9 to fly in private crew transportation to the International Space Station on commercial vehicles built by SpaceX and Boeing. The SpaceX Dragon capsule, which was carrying CRS-7’s payload, along with Boeing’s CST-100 space taxi, are set to begin commercially carrying crews to the space station by mid-2017.
While SpaceX’s investigation into the loss of CRS-7 will continue, the company states that the “process invariably will, in the end, yield a safer and more reliable launch vehicle” by the time the U.S. starts independently launching astronauts into space again.
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