NASA Still Hasn’t Released Report on SpaceX’s Last Accident

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

SpaceX’s recent firexplanomaly on the launch pad that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 reminded me that NASA has not yet released an accident report from the company’s previous catastrophic failure in June 2015. That in-flight accident launched a Dragon supply ship bound for the International Space Station into the Atlantic Ocean.

I inquired to the NASA Public Affairs Office as to when a report might be released. This was the response I received:

Thanks for reaching out. Let me check on whether the report from the investigation has been completed. We expect to have a summary with publicly releasable information when it is complete, but the report itself won’t be released since it contains information restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations and company-sensitive proprietary information.

The findings were briefly summarized in a NASA Office of Inspector General (IG) report released earlier this year about the space agency’s response to the failure. The report stated that a SpaceX-led investigation found the

most probable cause for the mishap was a strut assembly failure in the rocket’s second stage. Specifically, the failed strut assembly released a helium tank inside the liquid oxygen tank, causing a breach in the oxygen tank’s dome and the release of gas that in turn disabled the avionics and caused release of the Dragon 1 capsule and break-up of the launch vehicle….

The company’s post-mishap testing of strut parts from the same purchase order as those used on SPX-7 found material flaws due to casting defects, “out of specification” materials, and improper heat treatment.

The SpaceX investigation board consisted of 11 company employees, including the chairman, and a lone FAA official. The SpaceX employees signed the final report but the FAA official did not, according to the IG report.

A separate investigation by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) did not find a “probable cause” for the accident, the IG audit found. It concluded there were several “credible causes”, including poor quality control and practices at Elon Musk’s rocket company.

In addition to the material defects in the strut assembly SpaceX found during its testing, LSP pointed to manufacturing damage or improper installation of the assembly into the rocket as possible initiators of the failure. LSP also highlighted improper material selection and such practices as individuals standing on flight hardware during the assembly process, as possible contributing factors….

In February 2016, the NASA Administrator and the Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate sent a letter to SpaceX expressing concerns about the company’s systems engineering and management practices, hardware installation and repair methods, and telemetry systems based on LSP’s review of the failure.

The IG reported that SpaceX has taken a number of corrective actions to address concerns about the strut and its practices.

It is unclear whether the planned summary of the investigation will be more detailed than the summary in the IG report.

There was a report released after the explosion of an Orbital Science’s Antares vehicle that destroyed a Cygnus cargo ship bound for the space station.

Save

Save