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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -1°C
YouTube The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket begins to break up after launch

Tiny steel part blamed for rocket explosion that caused $110 million damage

Back to the drawing board for Elon Musk’s company.

Updated at 6.30pm

A SMALL STEEL strut that broke at about one-fifth its rated load probably caused the SpaceX rocket explosion that destroyed over $100 million in gear bound for the International Space Station.

The company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk said the component had been used hundreds of times without problems but during the June 28 launch it probably broke loose, dooming the craft.

“We are not going to use these particular struts in the future,” Musk said of the two-foot long, one-inch thick part, which came from a third-party supplier.

The post-launch component failure demolished the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon supply ship, which was running a routine, unmanned supply mission.

AP10ThingsToSee Space Station AP Photo / John Raoux The aftermath of the June 28 explosion AP Photo / John Raoux / John Raoux

Musk said the strut had been holding down a high-pressure helium bottle in the liquid oxygen tank.

Assuming it snapped as thought, the bottle would have shot to the top of the tank at high speed and triggered the explosion.

SciNews / YouTube

‘A little bit complacent’

In a statement, SpaceX said the struts were designed to hand about 4,500kgs of force but it had apparently failed under only 900kgs of pressure.

The accident caused NASA to lose $110 million (€101 million) in equipment bound for the astronauts living in orbit, the US space agency confirmed earlier this month.

Musk said its Falcon 9 would return to flight “no sooner than September” but the disaster wasn’t expected to delay SpaceX’s goal of putting astronauts into space on the Dragon within two years.

To some degree, I think the company as a whole became maybe a little bit complacent over the course of seven years and … essentially 20 successes in a row,” he said.

Space Station AP Photo / Jae C. Hong SpaceX CEO Elon Musk AP Photo / Jae C. Hong / Jae C. Hong

Musk, one of the founders of PayPal and the CEO of electric car company Tesla, started SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of dramatically cutting the cost of spaceflight. It currently employs over 4,000 people.

- With AFP and AP

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