We finally have an answer to the one question that’s been haunting space enthusiasts, especially those of SpaceX for the last one month. The mystery behind the unfortunate and sudden explosion of the Falcon 9 booster on the launch pad(with a Facebook internet.org satellite) has finally been revealed — solid oxygen. Surprising, ain’t it!?
During an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk shared that the details behind the primary reason for the explosion of the Falcon 9. The engineers investigating the blast had already reported that the same had been caused due to a breach in the “cryogenic helium system” of one of the three oxygen tanks. They had, however, still been hard at work to determine and replicate the root cause of the blast.
But, Musk has now disclosed that they’ve most likely figured it out and that it was the toughest puzzle the company ever had to solve. He further adds that the blast was caused by a “really surprising problem that’s never been encountered before in the history of rocketry.”
For those unaware, SpaceX’s procedure for shooting rockets up to space is completely different from that compared to regular launchings. The private space company instead of pre-fuelling the tanks resorts to filling the same when the rocket is nearing launch time, to possibly use less fuel and produce more thrust.
The explosion of the Falcon 9 has been attributed to this launch pre-filling process from the start. And NY Times is now sharing detailed reports stating that the liquid oxygen fuel froze solid while flowing into the second stage tank, which set in motion a series of explosions that destroyed the rocket. Musk didn’t dispense any further details and only shared a very explanation to describe the rupture in the helium tank and the extreme temperatures that led to the oxygen fuel freezing and causing the loss of billions worth of space instruments.
It basically involves a combination of liquid helium, advanced carbon fiber composites and solid oxygen. Oxygen so cold that it actually enters solid phase,
added Musk during the interview.
One can try to explain the blast by taking a brief look at the internal temperatures at which the Falcon 9 boosters operate. NY Times mentions that Oxygen fuel turns to solid at -362 degrees Fahrenheit and the oxygen fuel pumped into the rocket had been cooled to -340 degrees. The helium inside the carbon fiber tanks, on the other hand, is stored at temperatures as low as -452 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, I can’t be too sure, but some issue in the same is the most probable cause of the blast.
And though there have been speculations that this unfortunate blast could adversely affect the timeline for future rocket launches or trials but SpaceX has debunked them all. SpaceX might have lost its ISS contract due to concerns of future explosions and fuel filling process but the company is not planning to slow down on its ambitious missions to go above and beyond to explore the Red Planet. The Falcon 9, Musk reveals, will be ready to take flight sometime in December this year.