New comments by Musk on Sept 1 launchpad explosion

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Unconfirmed and leaked statements made by Elon Musk at a National Reconnaissance Office presentation on October 13 suggest that the investigation is getting close to identifying the cause of the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion.

“It might have been formation of solid oxygen in the carbon over-wrap of one of the [helium] bottles in the upper stage tanks,” according to an excerpt of Musk’s remarks. “If it was liquid, it would have been squeezed out. But under pressure it could have ignited with the carbon. This is the leading theory right now, but it is subject to confirmation.”

Musk’s is also reported to have said that they found they could “…exactly replicate what happened on the launch pad if someone shoots the rocket.” He also dismissed this as a likely cause, though it has forced them to review their future launch security measures.

The article provides some very good additional analysis of the solid oxygen theory above. It suggests that though much of this technology has been used somewhat routinely in the launch industry for years, the specific environment used by SpaceX in its Falcon 9 rocket might have produced a new situation that caused the failure.


  • Alex

    Solid oxygen theory! That is quite narrow to my intial idea.

  • Cotour

    I assume that if it was set off by a round that they would have very clear evidence of its impact. No?

  • Cotour: It seems you did not read my post, nor the link at the post. They have dismissed a bullet impact as a possible cause. They looked at it, found no evidence that this is what caused the explosion, and dismissed it. Obviously, there must not have been any “clear evidence of an impact”.

    They are now focused on other causes, though this investigation has caused them to reconsider their security measures for future launches.

  • Cotour

    “Not likely”, but they will have additional security anyway because they can exactly replicate what happened on the pad with a round. Sounds like they are still thinking about it.

  • Ben

    RZ….Please give a look at the YouTube channel called Tech X. They have used sound analysis to give a very convincing argument that the explosion came from the Strongback launch tower and not the Falcon 9 itself. Their basic argument is that the super cooled oxygen line that loaded the oxygen into the rockets caused oxygen in the atmosphere to liquefy and saturate the urethane insulation of the line itself. This mixture created a bomb just waiting for an ignition source. That source possibly being static build up in the atmosphere caused by numerous thunderstorms and showers in the area at the time. I’m no engineer, but Tech X has me convinced SpaceX is looking in the wrong place… Thanks.

  • Edward

    Interestingly, these statements are rumor. We do not know whether they are exact quotes, paraphrases based upon memory (possibly faulty or biased memory), or are fabricated. Trying to make sense out of them, right now, could be misleading.

    I will wait for official statements from people who are actually investigating the accident.

    I am not so impressed with the recommended video. He has general conceptual drawings rather than drawings that “Note where second-stage fuel and LOX ports would be positioned.” He asks us to note these positions without pointing to them.

    I doubt that the payload connection is a possible electric ignition source. Arcing connectors are not chosen for use in any assembly that I know of, even not in non-aerospace applications.

    The most intensely luminous point (presumably the point of ignition) seems to be at the interface between the LOX tank and the fuel tank, right where the article’s expert(s) suggests that an internal ignition could have occurred. I did not see any fill or vent ports where the flare indicated as the most intensely luminous.

    The “only separated component visible from the primary explosion” looks less like a component and more like a condensate cloud that is shaded from the bright light of the explosion. It looks like the underside of a cloud on an otherwise sunny day. It does not look like a solid piece of material, such as a separated component. It also is located on the far side of the rocket from where it supposedly originated.

    The video is guessing at a lot of parts and interfaces, such as the arrows pointing to the presumed payload electrical, second stage LOX feed line, and O2 boiloff vent interfaces.

    He states: “If this is a correct identification…” but if it is not correct, he is presenting incorrect information. Since I have doubts about his ability to identify the fundamentals, such as payload electrical, second stage LOX feed line, and O2 boiloff vent interfaces, then I have even greater doubts about his ability to identify mysterious components that suddenly show up in place of condensates from the frame before.

    For the ignition source to be a spark, we would have to conclude that either the spacecraft or the strongback were not properly grounded. Proper grounding has been known and practiced for more than half a century, so I find this to be an unlikely occurrence. I suspect that we would have heard something about that by now.

    For the ignition source to be atmospheric would be for the lightning towers to have failed in their designed duty. That people on a beach get injured by lightning is irrelevant to the Falcon 9, because those people were not protected by lightning towers, nor have I heard any indication of possible atmospheric discharge in the pad area at the time.

    Tech X is pretending more analysis ability that he has. Space News’s experts have better knowledge than Tech X does, so I prefer Space News’s experts’ more educated guesses as to what may have occurred. They may still be wrong, but at least they are credible for explaining the possibilities.

    I am not impressed with Tech X’s photoanalysis capabilities nor his ability to perform basic research as to where the payload electrical, second stage LOX feed line, and O2 boiloff vent interfaces are located.

  • wayne

    –are all these “internet-experts,” still “analyzing,” internet video?
    (in their basements, in between streaming bootleg Anime…)

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