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NASA Is Worried Another SpaceX Rocket Will Explode

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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NASA’s Space Station Advisory Committee recently announced that SpaceX’s fueling policy could cause future rockets to explode.

NASA has serious concerns about the company’s safety standards, and suggested that SpaceX review it policies. The committee has been saying this to NASA since at least 2015, and reiterated its concerns after a SpaceX rocket exploded in September. The company appears to have declined reviewing its policies.

“SpaceX has designed a reliable fueling and launch process that minimizes the duration and number of personnel exposed to the hazards of launching a rocket,” an unnamed SpaceX spokesperson told Universe Today. “As part of this process, the crew will safely board the Crew Dragon, ground personnel will depart, propellants will be carefully loaded over a short period, and then the vehicle will launch. During this time the Crew Dragon launch abort system will be enabled. Over the last year and a half, NASA and SpaceX have performed a detailed analysis of all potential hazards with this process.”

NASA suggested the company fuel the rocket immediately before launch in order to ensure the rocket’s fuel and lift capacity are not compromised. However, that recommendation could therefore have a significant impact on how SpaceX does business.

SpaceX suspects that a recent rocket explosion in September was caused by a problem with the rocket’s helium loading system, but isn’t sure of the root cause. The massive fireball destroyed a $60 million SpaceX rocket and a $200 million satellite to provide phone, video and internet services for the Middle East, Europe, and locations across sub-Saharan Africa.

Other industry experts suspect the explosion could have been caused by anything from a fuel leak, unknown contaminants in the liquid oxygen propellant, or a problem with rocket staging.

SpaceX’s billionaire CEO Elon Musk hopes to send crewed missions into space in the future, placing their lives at risk from a similar fueling accident.

If NASA is really concerned about SpaceX’s fueling process, Musk will have a harder time finding new clients and is risking a serious financial loss with each new launch, potentially driving customers to ULA and SpaceX’s other business rivals.

The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) estimated that SpaceX must spend $120 million to replace the lost rocket, factoring in future revenue from reusing the booster and the costs of repairing the launch pad. The company could also be hit with a $50 million dollar lawsuit from the telecommunications company whose satellite was destroyed by the rocket explosion. SpaceX declined to tell Forbes if SFF estimates were accurate.

SpaceX rockets have previously exploded several times during landing attempts, which Musk called a “huge blow.” SpaceX had nine more scheduled launches this year. After the company’s last launch failure, it took nearly six months before Falcon 9 launches were resumed. ULA employees have estimated that it could take up to a full year to resume launches.

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