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SpaceX explains rocket failure (and its fix)

SpaceX Vandenberg pad
SpaceX’s return to flight is due to take place Jan. 8 at its launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. (SpaceX Photo)

SpaceX says an investigation has concluded that the Sept. 1 explosion of its Falcon 9 rocket occurred due to the failure of a helium pressure vessel, and it’s taking steps to avoid the problem for its return to flight, set for Jan. 8.

That launch will send 10 Iridium Next communication satellites into orbit from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Meanwhile, repairs are continuing at SpaceX’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where September’s blow-up occurred during a pre-launch fueling test.

The California-based launch company’s founder, Elon Musk, had said previously that the supercooled helium tanks played a role in the accident, which led to the fiery loss of the rocket and its commercial Amos-6 satellite payload. Today’s update adds lots more detail to that diagnosis, and explains what SpaceX is doing to address the issue.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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