SpaceX investigation suggests helium breach caused its Falcon 9 explosion

SpaceX has a few answers about what might have caused the explosion of one of its Falcon 9 rockets on September 1. The rocket blew up while going through pre-launch prep on a landing pad, and no one was injured, but SpaceX has had some difficulty figuring out the cause, and shared very little info before now.

Today, an update on the SpaceX blog says that the results of an investigation which included SpaceX, the FAA, NASA and the Air Force point to a breach in the rocket’s cryogenic helium system, which is part of the second stage rocket component’s liquid oxygen tank and a key part of any liquid-propellant rocket design, as the likely cause. This means, for one, that this error isn’t related to the explosion that happened mid-flight with 2015’s CRS-7 Falcon 9 incident, according to SpaceX.

That’s good news, as is the fact that LC-40 (the landing pad in question) seems to be relatively unaffected by the explosion overall, beyond the pad systems itself. Support facilities and buildings nearby remain “intact” and “in good working order,” according to SpaceX, as are the control systems for the landing pad itself.

Meanwhile, SpaceX also says its manufacturing and production teams and facilities at its Hawthorne factory HQ have been “exonerated” by the investigation, meaning business continues there as usual with production of new rockets and components.

While the investigation team has identified the above-mentioned helium system as the source, it still needs to investigate the cause of why the breach took place to begin with. SpaceX says that it sees November as the window for returning to flight operations, however, pending resolution of its inquiry.