When a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on its launchpad earlier this year, it set off a flurry of conspiracy theories and wild accusations. Some spectators reported seeing a mysterious flying object near the launch site, leading some to accuse rival commercial spaceflight firms of intentionally sabotaging the launch with some sort of laser-equipped drone. To add fuel to that conspiracy fire, there were also claims that photographs showed some sort of mystery device on the roof of a nearby rival space firm. Naturally, there were also UFO rumors.
Now, Elon Musk and SpaceX have announced that they might have found the cause of the astronomically-expensive mishap, and it’s a lot less intriguing than we all might have hoped.
According to a SpaceX press release, the cause of the anomaly that triggered the explosion on September 1st was a breach in the casing of one of the rocket’s three liquid oxygen (LOX) fuel tanks, called composite overwrapped pressure vessels or (COPVs):
The root cause of the breach has not yet been confirmed, but attention has continued to narrow to one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the LOX tank. Through extensive testing in Texas, SpaceX has shown that it can re-create a COPV failure entirely through helium loading conditions. These conditions are mainly affected by the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.
While many outlets have reported that the cause of the explosion has been found, pay attention to the first sentence of the SpaceX quote above. Yes, they seem to have narrowed it down to a breach in the fuel tank, but what caused the breach? Seems to me that a rival corporation’s laser weapon could do the trick in no time. Naturally though, a more likely cause is an engineering failure or computational error.
Whatever the cause was, Elon Musk and SpaceX seem to be assured of their rockets’ safety; the company has announced they will resume launching rockets in December 2016. I guess they’ve worked out the kinks their laser defense drones.