SpaceX: Helium System Breach Caused Rocket Explosion

The private space launch company says it has found the possible cause behind the explosion that destroyed a rocket, a $200 million payload and caused extensive damage to the its primary launch pad.

SpaceX says the lead suspect for the cause of a massive fireball that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad three weeks ago is a breach in the helium system in the rocket's upper-stage oxygen tank.

What breached the system remains to be determined.

"Still investigating a range of plausible causes and not going to speculate," SpaceX spokesman Dex Torricke-Barton wrote in an email to Discovery News.

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In a statement posted on its website Friday, SpaceX said that investigators did not find any tie between the Sept. 1 launch pad accident and the company's previous failed mission, a June 2015 cargo run to the International Space Station for NASA.

That accident was traced to a faulty bracket that allowed a bottle of helium inside the upper-stage oxygen tank to break free. About 2.5 minutes into flight, the tank over-pressurized and burst.

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"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. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated. Through the fault tree and data review process, we have exonerated any connection with last year's ... mishap," SpaceX said.

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The Sept. 1 accident destroyed a $200 million Israeli communications satellite and damaged SpaceX's primary launch site.

SpaceX said it planned to repair the pad, but did not say how much that would cost, nor when it would be returned to service.

In the meantime, SpaceX said it hopes to resume flights in November. The company's second launch site in Florida, located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, just north of its primary site, is nearing completion.

SpaceX also launches high-inclination and polar-orbiting satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.