LOS ANGELES – Fire fed by a fuel leak led to the failure of a new commercial rocket seconds into its maiden launch, the founder of California-based Space Explorations Technologies said Saturday.
The preliminary analysis was issued a day after the loss of SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket during liftoff from an island in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, which destroyed an Air Force Academy research satellite.
The rocket carried FalconSat-2, part of an Air Force Academy satellite program intended to measure space plasma phenomena that can interfere with communications through space.
The fuel leak occurred 25 seconds into the launch near the top of the first-stage main engine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on the company Web site.
The fire cut a helium pneumatic system, and when pneumatic pressure fell, a safety function within the valves forced them to close, shutting down the main engine 29 seconds into the flight, Musk said.
The company will analyze data to try to isolate all possible causes for the leak. Musk said he hopes for another launch in less than six months.
Falcon 1 is a 70-foot-long, two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. Its first stage is designed to parachute into the ocean to be recovered and used again. It is intended to be the first in a family of low-cost rockets.
SpaceX originally planned a November launch, but problems with the rocket and limitations on the supply of liquid oxygen at the Kwajalein Atoll site delayed the mission.