SpaceX rocket exploded because of broken strut, explains CEO Elon Musk

21 Jul 2015

Is the sun setting on Elon Musk's SpaceX dreams?

A two-foot long, one-inch thick piece of metal has been blamed for the mid-air explosion of the unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 28 June. The rocket had been bringing supplies to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s rocket had lifted off and was just two and a half minutes into the sky when it disintegrated.

After reviewing data Musk said that one of the rocket’s struts – a two-foot metal bar – failed. The strut was meant to hold down a helium tank in the rocket.

When the strut failed the tank crashed violently within the compartment, leaking gas and leading to the explosion.

The investigation was carried out by SpaceX in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA and the US Air Force.

SpaceX had become ‘a little complacent’

Musk said the disaster has led to soul-searching within the SpaceX team. “We became a little complacent over seven years, after 20 successes in a row. But we really learned a really important lesson.”

He said that the strut was designed to handle 10,000Ibs of force but failed at 2,000Ibs of force.

Another factor that could have saved the reusable Dragon spacecraft on the Falcon 9 rocket was software. Musk said that if the software had initiated the parachute deployment on the Dragon, the spacecraft might have been saved.

Musk confirmed that the test of SpaceX’s next rocket, the Falcon Heavy, is to be pushed back until the spring of 2016.

28 June SpaceX rocket explosion (video)

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years