SpaceX to Resume Launches After Revealing Cause of Explosion

The Air Force's 45th Space Wing supported SpaceX’s successful launch of a Falcon 9 Dragon spacecraft headed to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station April 8, 2016. (SpaceX photo)The Air Force's 45th Space Wing supported SpaceX’s successful launch of a Falcon 9 Dragon spacecraft headed to the International Space Station from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station April 8, 2016. (SpaceX photo)

SpaceX plans to resume launching rockets as early as next week, according to an announcement from the California-based firm.

The company, headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, also revealed in a statement Monday the cause behind the Sept. 1 explosion at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida that destroyed the company’s Falcon 9 rocket along with an Amos-6 commercial satellite.

SpaceX suspended its flights after the accident, which significantly damaged the launch pad.

An investigation board — headed by officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Air Force, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and several industry experts — found that the massive fireball occurred because “one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels, or COPVs, inside the second stage liquid oxygen tank failed,” according to the announcement.

“Specifically, the investigation team concluded the failure was likely due to the accumulation of oxygen between the COPV liner and overwrap in a void or a buckle in the liner, leading to ignition and the subsequent failure of the COPV,” the statement went on to say.

RELATED: Air Force Joins Investigation into SpaceX Rocket Explosion

SpaceX said each Falcon 9 stage uses COPVs to store cold helium “used to maintain tank pressure.”

But the vessels — located inside the second-stage liquid oxygen tank — malfunctioned, triggering the explosion.

Investigators, who observed more than 3,000 channels of video and data, also determined that avoiding future anomalies “entails changing the COPV configuration to allow warmer temperature helium to be loaded,” the announcement stated.

SpaceX said it is also looking at long-term design changes to the COPVs to prevent buckles in the liners.

Last year, the Air Force awarded SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, its first substantial military contract — a deal valued at $83 million to launch a GPS satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket in May 2018.

“While this was not a National Security Space launch mission, the U.S. Air Force will continue working with SpaceX to ensure confidence in the safe and reliable launch of critical National Security Space satellites,” Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the Space & Missile Systems Center and the service’s program executive officer for space, said in a statement at the time.

The next scheduled launch will be from Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex with the Iridium NEXT launch on Jan. 8.

SpaceX still needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration before returning the Falcon 9 to flight.

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Oriana Pawlyk
Oriana Pawlyk is a reporter for Military.com. She can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.