Falcon 9 fireworks display grounds SpaceX

No launches on the roster for another couple of months

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The SpaceX launch schedule has been knocked back by a couple of months as a result of the loss of its Falcon 9 CRS-7 mission rocket on 28 June, it has revealed.

The company's president, Gwynne Shotwell, said of the pause: "We're taking more time than we originally envisioned to get back to flight. But I don't think any of our customers wants us to race to the cliff and fail again."

The unmanned CRS-7 was carrying supplies to the International Space Station when it exploded 139 seconds after lift-off. Subsequent investigation revealed the failure of a steel strut holding a helium pressure vessel, which caused "a momentary overpressure in the tank" and an almighty bang.

The offending pressure vessel was situated inside a second stage liquid oxygen fuel tank, pressurising the latter as the oxygen was expended. As we reported back in July: "The bottles, which store the helium at 5,500psi, become more buoyant as the g-force levels increase, and although the strut was verified to withstand 10,000lb of pressure, it failed at 2,000lb."

SpaceX will now test each strut itself, according head honcho Elon Musk, rather than relying on the subcontracted supplier's certification.

The loss of CRS-7 has also hit the "Falcon Heavy" programme, originally expected to fly in 2013, but now grounded until spring 2016.

Since the Falcon Heavy is more or less three Falcon 9s strapped together, it's no surprise that SpaceX's strut woes have prompted caution. ®


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