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Here's why Takata's airbag inflators keep exploding

As it turns out, there's more than one factor involved.

Takata Airbag Inflator
A technician holds a recalled Takata airbag inflator from a Honda Pilot.
Joe Skipper/Reuters/Corbis

Takata's faulty airbag inflators, which could rupture and send shrapnel (instead of an airbag) into the cabin, have been linked to 10 deaths and over 100 injuries so far. Tens of millions have been recalled here in the US alone, but nobody was really sure why this was happening. Now, we know.

An auto industry collective known as the Independent Testing Coalition called on rocket science company Orbital ATK to determine the cause of Takata's woes. After some digging, Orbital ATK figured out that there are three causes for this.

The first cause is the material used to inflate the airbag -- ammonium nitrate, which can go bad when exposed to high heat and humidity. The second cause relates to a lack of moisture-absorbing substance within the inflator, to help protect the ammonium nitrate. Finally, the inflator assemblies are not sufficiently protecting the contents within from humidity. Combine those three factors, and you've got a perfect storm of worst-case scenarios.

In an emailed statement, Takata agreed with the findings. "The results of testing conducted by Orbital ATK on behalf of the Independent Testing Coalition (ITC) are consistent with Takata's own testing," the statement said. "We fully cooperated with ITC to support their analysis, and we will continue to work closely with them, NHTSA and our customers to take aggressive actions that advance vehicle safety."

Thus far, several automakers have issued individual recalls related to Takata's airbag troubles. There's a rumor that tens of millions of additional airbag inflators are soon to be recalled, as well.