SpaceX finds surprising cause behind Crew Dragon explosion
One of the spacecraft designed to launch astronauts from US soil for the first time in years has been grounded since April.
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An accident investigation team involving SpaceX, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, US Air Force and National Transportation Safety Board collected debris from the explosion and the Dragon's SuperDraco thrusters and transported it to the company's development facility in McGregor, Texas, for testing.
On Monday, SpaceX released a statement outlining how a leak in the spacecraft's pressurization system allowed a liquid oxidizer -- nitrogen tetroxide, or NTO -- to make contact with a titanium valve.
The resulting explosive reaction between the two substances was the subject of a leaked video of the Dragon's final fiery moments that made headlines in late April.
"It is worth noting that the reaction between titanium and NTO at high pressure was not expected," reads the company's statement. "Titanium has been used safely over many decades and on many spacecraft from all around the world."
Watch this: SpaceX: Watch Crew Dragon capsule dock at ISS for the first time
On a call with reporters, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of mission assurance, emphasized that the problem was entirely within the pressurization system and not tied to any flaws in Crew Dragon's engines. He said the company will be replacing the valves with burst disks that seal more completely to mitigate the risk.
Glen Meyerowitz, a former SpaceX engineer noted on Twitter that "this change to burst disks from check valves may decrease the reusability of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Depending on how/where these burst disks are installed they may be extremely difficult to remove and replace after one ruptures."
SpaceX didn't immediately respond to a request for further comment.