SpaceX Falcon Fueling Technique Might Cause Explosion, NASA Warns

Fueled Falcon Heavy on the Launch Pad 1 photo
Photo: NASA
When Elon Musk-led SpaceX came with the idea of a reusable rocket, the world was stunned. The excitement of seeing a rocket booster land after it has completed its task has become synonym with SpaceX, despite the fact that this is not the only novelty brought by the company to space exploration.
One of the most dangerous parts of launching a rocket, apart from the launch itself, is the fueling process. For SpaceX, one proposal is to have this done by using a propellant - liquid kerosene mixed with oxygen - kept at super cold temperatures, -340 degrees Fahrenheit (-171 degrees Celsius), so that it could occupy less space and allow for more to be loaded.

This practice, say various reports, some allegedly coming from NASA itself, is extremely dangerous and, when Falcons will be launching humans into space, could prove deadly.

According to Washington Post, NASA safety experts say that when using this technique, the propellant would have to be loaded into the rocket right before the launch, meaning with the astronauts onboard. Any spark generated during this process could translate into a deadly explosion.

Such an incident occurred in 2016, when an unmanned Falcon rocket blew up while being fueled. And it was not a spark that caused the explosion, but something much simpler than that.

According to Elon Musk, an investigation into the incident showed that the super cold oxygen reacted with the carbon fiber composites within the fuel tank and exploded. This was possible because the oxygen was cooled further than planned, turning solid and igniting one of three carbon composite helium containers.

Robert Lightfoot, the former acting NASA administrator, said for the source that NASA would probably not have launched the Apollo missions had the working environment had been that of today.

As per the NASA regulations, all manned rocket launches must be subject to a chance of death that is not greater than one in 270 flights.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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