Elon Musk turned heads earlier this week when he announced his plans to travel and eventually colonize Mars, however, he would like to set the record straight: even with those plans, the Falcon 9 explosion investigation still remains SpaceX's top priority.
Speaking at a press conference following his address during the International Astronautical Congress where he revealed plans to start sending people to Mars as soon as 2024 (via the SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System or ITS), Musk said SpaceX remains committed to the "vexing and difficult" investigation into the Falcon9 pad explosion from earlier this month.
"It would be incorrect to say that it is anything other than our absolute top priority to establish what went wrong there," he said of the investigation.
In comparison, Mars "is very much a secondary or tertiary priority to understanding what happened on the last mission."
The explosion in question occurred on Thursday, Sept.1, when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded while it was being fueled with a combination of kerosene propellant and liquid oxygen in preparation for a scheduled test launch, though none of the engines had ignited. The explosion destroyed the booster along with a commercial satellite on top of it, and temporarily halted all Falcon 9 flights until answers are found.
And, unfortunately for Musk and SpaceX, no such answers have been found thus far.
The most recent update in that investigation came on Sept. 23, when the company surmised that the explosion was most likely triggered by a "large breach" in the helium system that pressurizes the liquid oxygen tank in the rocket's second stage.
"[The] 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," the notice read. "All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated."
Not much progress has been made since then, and even during the press conference, the most Musk could say was that in spite of an intense probe and extensive digital and video evidence, investigators "have eliminated all of the obvious possibilities," and are now looking at "less probable" causes.
What those causes could be remain unspecified.
That said, Musk is still optimistic in SpaceX's ability to get back on track, saying that Falcon 9 could resume launches as soon as November - a sentiment that industry observers and critics disagree with.