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Elon Musk confirmed during a press release that the recent Falcon 9 explosion was caused by a strut that snapped in the upper liquid oxygen tank.

The rocket was headed to the International Space Station (ISS) with over 5,000 pounds of supplies, food and a new International Docking Adaptor (a mount designed to ease docking for US crewed spacecrafts).

“This is the best of what we know thus far. We emphasize this is an initial assessment, and further investigation may reveal more over time,” confirmed Musk. “It’s the first time we’ve had a failure in seven years so, to some degree, the company as a whole got a little complacent. Especially with all the successes in a row, I think this is an important lesson and something we’ll take with us into the future.”

Falcon 9 inside dock

What Happened?

During the launch, a strut (two feet long and one inch thick) that was supposed to keep the helium pressure vessels intact broke due to immense pressure. The piece was designed to hold 10,000 pounds of force, but failed at 2,000 pounds. When the bar gave out, helium filled the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank. The pressure from the sudden surge caused the explosion.

Musk suggested that the specific part was faulty and not “up to code” (there are thousands of steel rods supporting the vessel). The company’s supplier for the strut wasn’t named during the briefing.

Prior to the unfortunate event, SpaceX had a clean record of 19 successful launches. Investigations are currently focused on various aspects of the incident, causing future missions to be postponed and serious losses in potential revenue for the business.

The upcoming launch to ferry the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Jason-3 Earth observation satellite into orbit was officially slated for a later date. Testing for the Falcon Heavy rocket was also moved to spring of 2016. The highly anticipated launch will be carrying three astronauts on the spacecraft.

Falcon 9 flight

Moving Forward from the Accident

In a move to prevent such accidents from happening again, the company will switch strut bar suppliers. Critical testing protocols are also in the process of being implemented to ensure the parts are up to working standards before liftoff. New software will be installed in the Dragon capsule that will allow it to parachute back to Earth in the event of an explosion. The safety measure is designed to save the contents onboard the ship and prevent cargo damage.

SpaceX’s partnership with NASA was not affected by the incident. The Commercial Crew Program that will send astronauts to the ISS is still in full swing.

“SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward,” highlighted NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

“This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

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