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SpaceX: Upper Stage Fueling Breach Caused Fireball

Explosion during fueling of a Falcon 9 rocket. Photo: US Launch Report / YouTube

SpaceX says a breach in the fueling system of a Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage is to blame for an explosion earlier this month.

Investigators are combing through 3,000 channels of engineering data to narrow down the cause. The time from when the anomaly occured and the rocket exploded is about 93 milliseconds — 1/10th of a second.

The fireball erupted during fueling ahead of a static fire engine test. That explosion destroyed the rocket and an Israeli communication satellite.

The explosion damaged the launch pad at LC-40, but SpaceX says ground systems around the pad were largely unaffected. SpaceX leases another pad on Florida’s Space Coast, LC-39A. However, that pad is being refurbished for SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Program and the launch of its heavy lift rocket Falcon Heavy.

SpaceX says a return to flight could happen as early as November. LC-39A should be ready for flight, and the private space company has another pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Last year, SpaceX lost a rocket minutes after launching to the International Space Station. The accident grounded the fleet for months. In a statement, SpaceX says investigators “exonerated any connection with last year’s CRS-7 mishap.”

The FAA, NASA and Air Force are assisting in the investigation.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »