NASA thinks a design error may have been the reason why a SpaceX rocket exploded in mid-air back in June 2015, according to a report by the space agency published March 12.
The ill-fated rocket was supposed to bring 4,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station — in what's called as the CRS-7 mission — but burst into flames mere moments after launching from a Cape Canaveral pad in Florida.
SpaceX later concluded that the explosion was the result of a faulty steel component called a strut, which snapped during the flight and allowed a helium bottle to break loose and hit an oxygen tank, which exploded and destroyed the rocket.
What Went Wrong With SpaceX's Failed Rocket, According To NASA
In its report, NASA said SpaceX decided to use an industrial-grade 17-4 PH SS cast part — instead of an aerospace-grade variant — which was put through a "critical load path under cryogenic conditions and strenuous flight environments." This implementation was administered without adequate screening, NASA claims. There was also no testing of the industrial-grade component, and the company launched the rocket disregarding the manufacturer's 4:1 factor of safety when using the part in question.
The part was supposed to handle nearly about 10,000 pounds of force but failed at merely 2,000 during the launch, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The company doesn't use the strut anymore, though, but still mentioned that it had been certified and was supposed to handle strenuous loads well beyond the expected figures.
What Does SpaceX Have To Say About This?
"We appreciate NASA's insight and continued partnership, and we look forward to next month's launch of a flight-proven Dragon for the company's fourteenth resupply mission to the International Space Station," said a spokesperson for SpaceX, who noted that both NASA and SpaceX came to the same conclusion about the failed 2015 rocket.
NASA did note that all the issues they identified were later resolved come time SpaceX launched another rocket in January 2016. The space agency's results had actually been completed back in 2015 but was only released just now "to maintain historical data of the mishap."
Since the accident, SpaceX has successfully launched a rocket 31 times, but one failed in September 2016 during a fueling mistake. Even still, that's a pretty startling ratio.
Despite numerous setbacks in the past, SpaceX seems to be on a roll. Its much-hyped Falcon Heavy launch was a success, for starters, and by launching a Tesla Roadster in space, it singlehandedly ignited excitement for space exploration once again. The company is setting its sight on Mars next.