Thomson ReutersAn unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes after lift-off from Cape Canaveral.Last month, Elon Musk's private spaceflight company, SpaceX, suffered a heart-breaking end to a spotless record for their Falcon 9 rocket.
After 18 straight successful flights, a Falcon 9 carrying an unmanned Dragon spacecraft — loaded with over 4, 000 pounds of supplies for astronauts on board the International Space Station —
Over the last few weeks, SpaceX engineers have logged thousands of hours trying to pinpoint the problem. Today, Musk announced the company's preliminary results, emphasizing in a media teleconference:
The likely culprit was a single, two-foot-long, one-inch-thick steel component called a strut. Falcon 9 rockets contain many of these struts and Musk said that over the course of Falcon 9's flight history, several thousand of them have flown without a problem.
This particular piece, however, did not perform as expected. All rocket struts on a Falcon 9 are designed to handle forces that are 10 times Earth's gravity, or 10 g. This strut broke at 2 g.
"In this case it failed five times below its normal strife, which is pretty crazy, " Musk said during the teleconference and later added. "It happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And once the strut snapped, it was all downhill from there:
The particular piece in question was holding in place a bottle of helium in the upper, second-stage component of the rocket — as opposed to its longer, larger first-stage section. The helium bottles help maintain pressure inside the second-stage fuel tanks, which keeps them from imploding. As the rocket gradually depletes the fuel in its tanks, changing the volume inside, the pressure would normally change as well. To prevent this from happening, the bottles of helium slowly replace the vanishing fuel with helium gas, sustaining their inner pressure.
But when the single strut broke, the helium bottle it was holding went flying toward the fuel tank, which seems to be what caused the explosion, according to SpaceX's latest preliminary results.
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