SpaceX is closer to understanding why their rocket exploded at Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC 40) on September 1. They may also be getting closer to seriously upsetting NASA.
A September 23 statement on the SpaceX website said, "At this stage of the investigation, preliminary review of the data and debris suggests that a large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place."
This isn't the first time the second stage liquid oxygen tank has been involved in a mishap. A faulty strut inside a second stage oxygen tank was blamed for the destruction of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station in June 2015.
Is there a connection between that incident and the recent one? According to SpaceX, no.
"Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."
Even if the cause is different from the last time, SpaceX has a problem with that second stage oxygen tank. And NASA is not convinced that a faulty strut was solely responsible for the first incident.
According to an article at Parabolic Arc, an investigation by NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) uncovered several potential issues that could have contributed to the first accident.
Based on that LSP investigation, a recent report from the NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said, "In addition to the material defects in the strut assembly SpaceX found during its testing, LSP pointed to manufacturing damage or improper installation of the assembly into the rocket as possible initiators of the failure."
The OIG report went on to say, "LSP also highlighted improper material selection and such practices as individuals standing on flight hardware during the assembly process, as possible contributing factors."
The LSP report noted that NASA was concerned about these issues. They sent a letter to SpaceX last February "...expressing concerns about the company's systems engineering and management practices, hardware installation and repair methods, and telemetry systems based on LSP's review of the failure."
The article at Parabolic Arc has further details and a link to the full OIG report.
Left unsaid is whether or not NASA is starting to run out of patience with SpaceX. Also unknown is whether or not Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, is paying attention to the gathering storm clouds.
Rocket accidents bring out the armchair analysts in droves claiming all sorts of things. One group of space cadets said an alien spaceship destroyed the rocket.
Perhaps the most interesting evaluation was done by a guy who goes by the name Thunderf00t. He did a 17-minute video analysis that identified the second stage oxygen tank as the likely problem. Keep in mind that his video came out before SpaceX's September 23 announcement.
That's all for this week. Let's see what new revelations emerge in the riveting space soap opera, As the Rocket Burns.