When the Falcon 9 rocket exploded in September during a routine preflight test, SpaceX put all future launches on hold pending an investigation into the cause. The dramatic eruption destroyed the rocket and its payload and did extensive damage to the launch pad. At first, Elon Musk and SpaceX referred to the incident as an “anomaly.”
Later, Musk expressed suspicion that the failure might have been caused by sabotage. In October, SpaceX asked for access to the rooftop of a building owned by the United Launch Alliance more than a mile away. ULA is a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that is in direct competition with SpaceX for government space contracts. SpaceX sources claimed that videotape of the incident had detected an odd white shape and shadow on that roof just prior to the explosion.
An investigation headed by SpaceX with assistance from various federal agencies would later focus on an internal rupture of one of the rocket’s fuel tanks. Investigators believe one of those tanks may have ruptured when supercooled fuel came into contact with the carbon composite material wrapped around the outside of the pressurized container.
Now comes word via a report published by the Wall Street Journal that SpaceX is expected to give federal authorities a preliminary investigative report outlining reasons for its September rocket explosion. The final report is part of a company wide initiative to convince government officials that SpaceX has identified the cause for the failure but more important obtain approval for changes intended to prevent a repeat of the catastrophic accident.
“We’re finalizing the investigation and its accompanying report, and aim to return to flight in December”, said a SpaceX spokesperson.
However, SpaceX will need final approval by the Federal Aviation Administration after it reviews the final report outlining specifics on what took place the day of the rocket explosion.
SpaceX has weathered storms like this before. In 2015, after a Falcon 9 rocket exploded two minutes after launch, SpaceX obtained the necessary approvals to resume flights before the end of that year. In this instance, the investigation has taken a little longer. Elon Musk says SpaceX has struggled to understand “the most difficult and complex failure” in the company’s 14 year history.
SpaceX has $10 billion worth of international launch contracts pending, including a new contract with NASA to send its Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) vehicle into orbit.