Falcon 9 Fails, Dooming Dragon Cargo Ship and First Commercial Crew Docking Adapter

Close to the end of first-stage flight, the nine Merlin 1D engines appeared to flare, ahead of vehicle disintegration. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Close to the end of first-stage flight, the nine Merlin 1D engines appeared to flare, ahead of vehicle disintegration. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Following 18 successful launches since June 2010, the heart was torn from SpaceX earlier today (Sunday, 28 June), following the disintegration of a Falcon 9 v1.1 booster during its flight to deliver the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS). Launched on time at 10:21:00 a.m. EDT, the mission carried 4,116 pounds (1,867 kg) of pressurized cargo for the incumbent Expedition 44 crew of Commander Gennadi Padalka and One-Year crewmen Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, as well as NASA’s first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1) for Commercial Crew support. The vehicle appeared to enjoy a largely flawless first-stage flight, but at T+139 seconds—seemingly from nowhere—the plumes of the nine Merlin 1D engines flared and the vehicle disintegrated, depositing debris across a huge area on the Melbourne Weather Radar. Speaking at a press conference, hosted at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Sunday afternoon, key SpaceX, NASA and FAA officials expressed sorrow at the failure and declared their determination to identify the root cause and return to flight within months. At the same time, AmericaSpace understands that both SpaceX and NASA were aware of an issue associated with liner cracking, close to the liquid oxygen tank “dome” on the Falcon 9 v1.1’s second stage, although it remains to be seen if this was a factor in today’s accident.

Following a nominal Static Fire Test of the Merlin 1D first stage engines last week, efforts to prepare for this flight proceeded with similar smoothness. Meteorological conditions for an on-time launch at 10:21:00 a.m. Sunday were highly favorable, with Patrick Air Force Base 45th Weather Squadron predicting a 90-percent likelihood of acceptable weather, tempered by a possible violation of the Cumulus Cloud Rule. “A surface boundary will continue to move slightly southward and into northern Florida by Sunday morning,” it was noted at 8 a.m. EDT Saturday. “Although lightning chances remain high in the afternoon and evening, given the time of launch, weather violation threat is low. The primary weather concern is early cumulus development. Max winds will be southwest at 25 knots at 30,000 feet (10,000 meters).” However, the 45th cautioned that a 24-hour delay until Monday—whose “launch window” was timed to open slightly earlier, at 9:58 a.m. EDT—would be more problematic. “On Monday, conditions worsen slightly as the surface boundary pushes further south into Central Florida,” it was explained. “The added instability could create unsettled weather even in the morning hours.” The result for Monday was an added risk of violating the Flight Through Precipitation Rule and a slightly lower 70-percent probability of acceptable conditions at T-0.

Today's mission would have been SpaceX's third Dragon flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015 and might have seen a first-stage landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Today’s mission would have been SpaceX’s third Dragon flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015 and might have seen a first-stage landing on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Shortly after midnight Sunday, efforts to power up the Falcon 9 v1.1—a two-stage vehicle, first trialed back in September 2013, which drew upon the heritage of its predecessor, the Falcon 9 v1.0—got underway at the darkened SLC-40. A few hours later, as the first glimmers of dawn reached the Cape, fueling of the booster with liquid oxygen and a highly refined form of rocket-grade kerosene, known as “RP-1”, commenced. The cryogenic nature of the oxygen required the fuel lines of the engines to be chilled down, in order to avoid thermally shocking and potentially fracturing them. According to AmericaSpace’s Launch Tracker, liquid oxygen tanking began at 7:46 a.m. and was complete about 65 minutes later. All stations declared themselves “Green” (“Go for Launch”), with the weather holding steady at 90-percent favorable.

At 10:08 a.m., the countdown reached its final “Go/No-Go” polling point of all stations at T-13 minutes and passed smoothly through the poll of flight controllers, allowing the Launch Director to issue a definitive “Go for Launch” and authorize the initiation of the Terminal Countdown at T-10 minutes. Passing into Autosequence Start, the nine Merlin 1D engines of the first stage were chilled, ahead of their ignition sequence. All external power utilities from the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) were disconnected and the CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft was transferred to internal power at 10:14:50 a.m. Less than a minute later, as planned, SLC-40’s strongback began its roughly 90-second retraction from the Falcon 9 v1.1 stack and the Flight Termination System (FTS)—tasked with destroying the vehicle in the event of a major accident during ascent—was placed onto internal power and armed.

During the final minutes, liquid oxygen topping ended, propellant tanks attained flight pressure and the Merlin 1Ds were purged with inert gaseous nitrogen. At T-60 seconds, the SLC-40 complex’s “Niagara” deluge system of 53 nozzles was activated, flooding the pad surface and flame trench with 30,000 gallons (113,500 liters) of water, per minute, to suppress acoustic energy radiating from the engine exhausts.

At T-3 seconds, the nine Merlin 1Ds roared to life, ramping up to a combined thrust of 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kg). Following computer-commanded health checks, the Falcon 9 v1.1 was released from SLC-40 at 10:21:00 a.m. Immediately after clearing the tower, the vehicle executed a combined pitch, roll and yaw program maneuver to establish itself onto the proper flight azimuth to inject the CRS-7 Dragon into low-Earth orbit. Eighty seconds into the uphill climb, the Falcon 9 v1.1 exceeded the speed of sound and experienced a period of maximum aerodynamic turbulence—colloquially known as “Max Q”—on its airframe. Shortly afterwards, as expected, the second stage’s Merlin 1D Vacuum engine began its chill-down protocol, ahead of its ignition later in the ascent, following the separation of the first stage at about T+3 minutes.

It was during this latter phase of first-stage flight that the flight began to go catastrophically awry and the vehicle broke up at 10:23 a.m., with the final telemetry received at T+2 minutes and 19 seconds. “There appears to have been a problem with the Falcon 9 rocket,” noted AmericaSpace’s Launch Tracker. “The Range Operations has confirmed the malfunction.” It was initially believed that the FTS had been activated to destroy the vehicle, although at Sunday afternoon’s press conference SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell explained that she had “heard no indication that there was a destruct signal” issued to the Falcon 9 v1.1, prior to breakup. In the minutes after the accident, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk—whose 44th birthday, today, has been overshadowed by what is undeniably the worst day in the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services provider’s 13-year history—tweeted that “There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank”. He added that “data suggests counterintuitive cause” and AmericaSpace’s Launch Tracker stressed that Mr. Musk’s words tied in “with slow-motion footage of the explosion where a plume of vapor can be seen streaming down the sides of the booster immediately before the explosion”.

Today's launch occurred precisely on the opening of the "instantaneous" window at 10:21:00 a.m. EDT. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Today’s launch occurred precisely on the opening of the “instantaneous” window at 10:21:00 a.m. EDT. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Within two hours of the accident, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden issued a preliminary statement. “We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station,” he said. “However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The Commercial Cargo Program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer-duration missions farther into the Solar System.”

A post-anomaly press conference was initially expected to convene at KSC at 12:30 p.m. EDT, but was repeatedly postponed and eventually commenced shortly after 1 p.m. Present both in person and via telephone were Ms. Shotwell, together with NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini and Deputy Division Manager for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation Pam Underwood. In her opening comments, Ms. Shotwell remarked that “first-stage flight was successful”, up until 139 seconds, whereupon “we experienced an anomaly which led to the failure of the mission”. However, she stressed that “first-stage flight remained nominal” and that she did not expect the cause of the failure to be specifically rooted in the first stage hardware. Ms. Shotwell also pointed out that telemetry continued to be received from the CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship in the seconds after the anomaly.

Within seconds, the Falcon 9 v1.1 was gone, vanishing into a fireball and emerging as a swarm of debris on what has become the worst day in SpaceX's 13-year history. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

Within seconds, the Falcon 9 v1.1 was gone, vanishing into a fireball and emerging as a swarm of debris on what has become the worst day in SpaceX’s 13-year history. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

“A tough day” was Mr. Gerstenmaier’s summary, and “not where I’d like to be on a Sunday afternoon”. Of obvious significance was the fact that three ISS cargo providers—Russia’s Progress, Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus and now SpaceX’s Dragon—have succumbed to catastrophic failures, within the course of just a single year. Orbital lost its ORB-3 mission, seconds after liftoff atop an Antares booster, back in October 2014, after which Russia’s Progress M-27M experienced a third-stage failure during its April 2015 ascent and re-entered the atmosphere to destruction last month. “I didn’t think we’d lose them all in a one-year timeframe,” he admitted. “Having three this close together is not what we’d hoped for,” agreed Mr. Suffredini. In his comments, Mr. Gerstenmaier said that there exists “no commonality” between the three accidents, with the exception that space is a difficult, demanding and unforgiving environment in which to operate. He added that the ISS remains in “good shape from a food standpoint and water standpoint” and saw no reason to delay the planned launch of Progress M-28M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 3 July or the launch of Soyuz TMA-17M and its crew of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japan’s Kimiya Yui on 22-23 July.

Nonetheless, as well as being SpaceX’s worst day, the loss of this particular mission carries profound consequences for Commercial Crew, in view of the presence of the critical IDA-1. This docking interface—described in an earlier AmericaSpace article—was to be installed onto Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA)-2 on the forward end of the station’s Harmony node in early August by spacewalkers Scott Kelly (EV1) and Kjell Lindgren (EV2). In doing so, it would provide the primary docking interface for SpaceX’s Dragon V-2 and Boeing’s CST-100 crewed vehicles, which are expected to undertake their first unpiloted missions within two years. Mr. Gerstenmaier and Mr. Suffredini also pointed out that a significant amount of research hardware, including a substantial number of student experiments, and a U.S. Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) space suit, had also been lost. A second IDA was tentatively scheduled to fly aboard the CRS-9 mission in December 2015, to be installed onto PMA-3 at the space-facing (or “zenith”) port of Harmony, in order to offer a backup Commercial Crew location. Mr. Suffredini hinted that this mission may be brought forward, dependent upon the findings of the mishap investigation, and that he expects the ISS cargo manifest across all of the International Partners to be adjusted in the coming months to ensure that the station remains adequately stocked.

The first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1), highlighting micrometeoroid protection and the three "petals" of its capture mechanism. This was perhaps the most visible payload aboard CRS-7. Photo Credit: NASA

The first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1), highlighting micrometeoroid protection and the three “petals” of its capture mechanism. This was perhaps the most visible payload aboard CRS-7. Photo Credit: NASA

steps for SpaceX are the investigation process, which Ms. Shotwell expects to be completed within a matter of months, and not the year of downtime which has characterized Orbital Sciences’ recovery in the aftermath of the ORB-3 loss. In offering her perspective on the FAA’s position, Ms. Underwood pointed out that the CRS-7 mission was flown under an FAA Launch License and that today’s accident has been formally classified as a “Mishap”, which will generate an investigation, undertaken in-house by SpaceX, with FAA oversight. Ms. Shotwell told the assembled media that, since all of the Falcon 9 v1.1 and Dragon hardware belonged to SpaceX, this would improve the process of investigating what went wrong. She expects to leverage the help and support of the FAA and will submit documentation prior to the next launch attempt. Summing up, Ms. Shotwell was philosophical in her insistence that SpaceX’s launch provision was a “tough business” and that today’s events served as “a reminder of how difficult this is”.

It remains to be seen where the investigation will lead, although there are clear indications that the Falcon 9 v1.1’s second stage hardware was a contributor in today’s anomaly. AmericaSpace understands from sources that both NASA and SpaceX were well aware of an issue on the vehicle, pertaining to cracking of the liner on the second stage’s liquid oxygen tank dome. Until recently, SpaceX’s solution has been to utilize sprayed-on Teflon lubricant, in the hope that it would alleviate the stresses which caused the problem and AmericaSpace has reached out for additional comment. Senior sources at SpaceX told AmericaSpace that “We are always worried about our Helium pressurant tanks, but we don’t have data yet that says it was them”. Meetings will continue this evening and over the coming days to review the early data and enable a piecing-together of what is known.

Responses on Twitter have offered support to SpaceX and acknowledgement of the difficulty of delivering vehicles into orbit. Veteran NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio—who spent more than 187 days aboard the ISS between November 2013 and May 2014, spanning Expeditions 38 and 39—remarked that today’s accident was “more proof launching into space is difficult and dangerous. I’m sure they will come back strong.” Former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson added that it had been a “tough day in space”, a sentiment shared by fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, who tweeted that he had recently spoken to his twin brother, Scott, aboard the ISS. “He’s paying close attention to sit[uation] w/the catastrophic failure of the @SpaceX resupply vehicle.” And from aboard the ISS, Scott Kelly himself tweeted that he had “Watched #Dragon launch from @space_station. Sadly failed. Space is hard.”

In spite of today’s accident, one other point of significance is that Expedition 44 Commander Gennadi Padalka will today surpass fellow Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev to become the most experienced spacefarer. At 6:58 p.m. EDT Sunday, Padalka will exceed Krikalev’s cumulative achievement of 803 days, nine hours and 39 minutes, which he established across six space missions between November 1988 and October 2005. Krikalev flew four long-duration voyages—two to Russia’s Mir space station and two to the ISS—as well as becoming the first cosmonaut to fly aboard the shuttle in February 1994 and joining the crew of the first ISS construction mission in December 1998. By contrast, Padalka has flown five long-duration missions and, with Expedition 44, becomes the first human being to command the ISS on four discrete occasions. Last month, on 25 May, Padalka surpassed the 769-day career total of fellow Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Kaleri and moved into second place on the list of the world’s most experienced spacefarers, having also exceeded another cosmonaut, Sergei Avdeyev, and positioned himself in third place, back on 3 May. By the time Padalka returns to Earth on 11 September, he will have accrued a career total of 878 days in orbit, which represents approximately 2.4 years of his 57 years of life.

 

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS: Alan Walters, Matt Gaetjens‎ and Talia Landman / AmericaSpace, all rights reserved.

SpaceX CRS-7

SpaceX CRS-7

SpaceX CRS-7

SpaceX CRS-7

SpaceX CRS-7

SpaceX CRS-7

 

SpaceX CRS-7

 

 

 

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56 comments to Falcon 9 Fails, Dooming Dragon Cargo Ship and First Commercial Crew Docking Adapter

  • Joe

    Thanks Ben,

    A good straight forward factual report.

    A bad day indeed.

    “It remains to be seen where the investigation will lead, although there are clear indications that the Falcon 9 v1.1’s second stage hardware was a contributor in today’s anomaly. AmericaSpace understands from sources that both NASA and SpaceX were well aware of an issue on the vehicle, pertaining to cracking of the liner on the second stage’s liquid oxygen tank dome.”

    That is scary and will bear watching any investigation proceeds.

    Also of interest is the confusion as to whether or not a destruct command was sent or if the vehicle simply self-destructed.

    Just a couple of things to watch.

    • Yes, good report. The tweet from Musk that “There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank” which I had read here (and earlier today) hints at a burst second stage LOX tank. This combined with the known LOX tank dome issue certainly points towards a good target for the accident investigation. I’m looking forward to seeing a balanced discussion on this unfortunate failure, for a change.

    • Matt McClanahan

      On the FTS, Keith Cowing seems to have gotten an answer from NASA: “No, the range didn’t have a chance.”

      Which I wonder about a bit, because having watched the launch myself, it felt like there was plenty of time after initial signs of an upper stage issue, when the first stage was still operating, to push the button. But maybe they were just watching to see if it’d be necessary.

      • Joe

        Hi Matt,

        Probably best to wait a couple of days for things to “settle down”.

        What would make the range safety people nervous is if they did not have the information available to send a destruct signal before the vehicle destructed on its own. That could imply all kinds of more dangerous scenarios.

        That may make them seem like “control freaks”, but that is not always a bad thing.

      • Jim Hillhouse

        It seems like 7 seconds elapsed between the initial issue and the final explosion. I had thought that the range safety officer had caused that. But apparently the rocket disintegrated.

    • Jim Hillhouse

      Shuttle said no destruct signal was sent.

  • Tomislav

    I just wonder is it possible to upgrade Dragon capsule with SuperDraco thruster so that in the event of such mishap cargo wouldn’t be lost?

    • My understanding is that the down-mass capability of the Dragon is lower than the up-mass capability, so even if a separation system was added I suspect it would not be able to safely splashdown with the at-launch cargo.

      • Matt McClanahan

        The up-mass capacity includes the trunk, which is discarded before re-entry. However, the situation is a bit different with Dragon V2 (the one that has the abort system).

        In an abort for Dragon V2, the trunk remains attached because the fins provide stability (not unlike a shuttlecock) until just before the drogue chutes deploy. This means that either the SuperDracos will have the necessary thrust to pull both the capsule and cargo-bearing trunk to safety, or manned flights (and cargo flights where the abort capability is desired) wouldn’t be able to load the trunk with anything (or substantially less, at least). I imagine folks on the NSF forums have already done the math on which one applies, but I don’t know the answer. Either way, it still means cargo in the trunk would be lost in an abort unless it was equipped with its own, separate parachutes.

  • Tim Andrews

    As Joe said, great article. One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate about this site and its writing/editorial staff is that the articles go further than what’s been pumped out in press releases and news conferences.

    I’m having trouble following some of the statements about the potential cause, hopefully someone can clarify.

    “both SpaceX and NASA were aware of an issue associated with liner cracking, close to the liquid oxygen tank “dome” on the Falcon 9 v1.1’s second stage”

    “SpaceX’s solution has been to utilize sprayed-on Teflon lubricant, in the hope that it would alleviate the stresses ”

    “We are always worried about our Helium pressurant tanks, but we don’t have data yet that says it was them”

    I’m not following the jump from the subject of LOX to helium – is this implying that the LOX overpressure may have been as a result of a failure in the helium system?

    If there’s been a concern over the second stage LOX tank being overstressed (I infer that this was by friction against something else on board, if spray teflon lubricant was a solution) it will be interesting to see if this has already been addressed in the next revision of the Falcon9 second stage, since it will use colder LOX and a larger fuel tank. If I remember correctly, first launch of that new revision was planned for a commercial launch in August.

    From last October to now it’s been a rough year for getting supplies to the ISS. NASA’s expressed worry about underfunding commercial crew delaying it for a year or two, I wonder how far the loss of the first docking adapter is going to push things back. Is there another vehicle besides Dragon right now with the capacity to deliver a docking adapter?

    I won’t be surprised of the CRS2 awards get pushed back a bit further for more scrutiny now that both of the original CRS providers have had a launch failure.

    • Joe

      “I wonder how far the loss of the first docking adapter is going to push things back. Is there another vehicle besides Dragon right now with the capacity to deliver a docking adapter?”

      The specific interfaces would have to be worked, but the Japanese HTV should have the basic capability.

      http://global.jaxa.jp/countdown/h2bf1/overview/htv_e.html

      Question would then become, how fast could such a mission be arranged?

      • Tim Andrews

        I didn’t realize HTV had the unpressurized section. I expect it would be relatively trivial to mount the IDA on a pallet there, vs customizing a vehicle to carry it.

        • Joe

          “I expect it would be relatively trivial to mount the IDA on a pallet there, vs customizing a vehicle to carry it.”

          Undoubtedly, specialized interface hardware to mount unpressurised equipment in the Shuttle Cargo Bay was designed/implemented all the time.

          The trick will be working the agreements and arranging the launch.

      • >how fast could such a mission be arranged?

        Trust me, nothing happens fast with the HTV. The HIIB launch vehicle is very expensive, and it has a limited launch “season” due to agreements with Japanese fishing industry near the launch site.

        The HTV manifest is booked-up for a long time out. We keep begging for a firm slot for the EUSO (Extreme Universe Space Observatory). EUSO should go up in 2017 if all goes well. I, for one, would be livid if the observatory was bumped by a new slot for the IDA.

        The EUSO engineering team looked at launching the observatory in the Dragon trunk, but the Dragon solar arrays get in the way and would force a major re-design of EUSO. So, it’s HTV or EUSO goes back to being a free-flyer. The glamorous LHC et al. gets most of the money, so EUSO would go back to begging for scraps. Grrrr.

        http://jem-euso.uchicago.edu/

        • Joe

          I am familiar with the situation.

          In fact I worked the HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV)to the Node Two Nadir Port Interface Control Document (ICD) and spent time in Japan while doing it.

          But the question was – “Is there another vehicle besides Dragon right now with the capacity to deliver a docking adapter?” The answer is yes the HTV has that capability.

          I also added the caveat – “Question would then become, how fast could such a mission be arranged?” – for precisely the reasons you state.

          Still as of now the HTV can fly and the Dragon vehicle cannot (at least not on a Falcon 9).

          In fact, as of right now, with both Orbital Sciences and SpaceX (the entire CRS Contract) grounded this country has no access (crew or cargo) to the ISS except through foreign entities.

          • >I am familiar with the situation…time in Japan while doing it.

            Neat!

            Myself, when reply to a post on a site like this, it’s usually with the general “audience” in mind, there’s probably lots of lurkers out there who may find the discussion interesting. If one lurker becomes curious about the EUSO (for instance), that makes my day.

            Until the CCP vehicles are flying, the IDA is just a boat anchor without a boat, so like I say, I’d be livid if the IDA was added to the HTV manifest.

            • Joe

              ” … I’d be livid if the IDA was added to the HTV manifest.”

              I have no inside political information, but about the only way that could happen (that is for the IDA to “jump in line” on the HTV manifest) would be if the US Government intervened at the State Department level.

              There is nothing on the public record that indicates the current administration places that high a priority on anything to do with space, so the chances of you having to get “livid” are probably remote.

              With the CRS contract currently grounded (and both Orbital Sciences and SpaceX were underperforming before their “anomalies”), NASA’s priority is probably going to be (at least, should be) to get CRS onto some kind of track (to get it back on anything like it’s original track is no longer possible).

              If that leaves us stuck dependent on our Russian friends for crew transport for a longer period of time, I do not like that any better then anyone else; but that seems to be the situation with which we are stuck.

    • Hi Tim,

      We are still waiting on reply from NASA HQ about their knowing about the LOX tank liner cracking problems, yet certifying for flight anyway. We don’t expect a response, because that info is being handed to us internally, but they have a chance to respond. The SpaceX senior official we spoke with either misunderstood the question, or tried to throw us off altogether by jumping to Helium, either way we are still waiting on a reply to that confusion.

      Expect a story on this problem specifically in the coming days. There are several in SpaceX and NASA who are not too happy, and are starting to be willing to come forward with what they have apparently known, and the accusations of “cutting corners” for quite some time seems to be a common denominator. We just have to wait for our interview to be completed…

      • Tim Andrews

        Thank you Mike,

        I’m sure more will come to light in the coming weeks. I really appreciate the work the whole AmericaSpace crew is doing to get the real news and get it out in a coherent form.

  • Byron Hood

    Great article and interesting comments. Thank you all!

  • Duquesne

    Goodbye SpaceX, goodbye NewSpace.

    They will be out of business in six months to a year.

    • Tracy the Troll

      The fact that both providers are currently out of commission is precisely the plan…This is a rough business…The Musk realizes he has to eliminate government work the better SpaceX will be…He is now undertanding just how the MOB works…

      • Joe

        Tracy,

        You seem to be implying sabotage.

        If that is your intent, it is a very serious accusation.

        If it is your intent, therefore, please:

        – Do not imply it, say it outright.
        – Specify who you mean by “the MOB” (that is who you are accusing).
        – Present evidence to support your accusation.

      • Joe

        Who is the “MOB”?
        What was the MOB’s plan?
        What (specifically) is it you believe the MOB has done?

    • Hi Gary Church! Glad to see that you are making your usual positive contribution to the conversation 🙂 The simple fact of the matter is that if every space launch provider went under after a launch failure, we would not have any launch capability at all today. Assuming that you do not get banned under your new “nom de plume” in the mean time, can we expect a public admission from you that you were wrong when SpaceX does not go under by the end of this year?

    • Gary, get some counseling.

      Moderator: the Church troll is back as “Duquesne”, please block again.

      Thanx.

  • Carping about a launch failure is something I as the Sr. Editor, mostly a ceremonial title but in this case not, will not allow. So, I have unapproved comments regarding SpaceX’s fate and the responses thereto.

  • Duquesne

    http://www.latimes.com/business/

    An unbiased look at the basic numbers shows SpaceX offering to launch payloads at a quarter of the price of ULA, which has launched over 90 in a row; and after less than a quarter of that number SpaceX just proved there is no cheap.

    Cheap- the illusion that you can get something of value for close to nothing- seems to have just ended in regards to the launch industry. China’s past remark that SpaceX launch prices were a deception is going to resurface as well as the reality that Musk’s companies are subsidized by the government to the tune of over 4 billion dollars.

    “Sunday’s failure gives more ammunition to the company’s critics, especially those in Congress who support the Boeing-Lockheed venture known as United Launch Alliance.
    Before Sunday, SpaceX’s long string of successes had put the joint venture, run by the two of the world’s biggest military contractors, on the defensive.
    The venture had begun to cut staff and streamline operations in an attempt to lower its high prices to compete with the upstart.”

    Going cheap often means paying more in the end- or ending up with nothing. Musk initiated much of this disarray in ULA and DOD satellite launches (by filing a lawsuit against the Air Force of his adopted nation). Instead of admitting the deleterious effect his company has had it seems in some scientology-like manner the various journalistic sources are afraid, even now, of payback.

    • Joe

      Interesting article perhaps the most pertinent parts are:

      – ”But at the company’s Hawthorne headquarters, employees were already struggling to keep up with its aggressive schedule of almost 50 upcoming launches.”

      – “Over the last year, the firm has repeatedly pushed back its ambitious schedule.”

      Scheduling problems and overworked employees could relate to Mike Killian’s post above about cutting corners.

      This could get interesting.

      • Duquesne

        When they fire 400 people for “poor performance” in one fell swoop it is not for poor performance- they are just cutting back on the workforce because they are running out of money. This is one of those cases where after the fact everyone wonders how they could have been fooled into thinking everything was so wonderful. In my view it is a stunningly obvious repeat of the Shuttle program. The do-everything-cargo-bay-of-dreams was supposed to pay for itself while somehow taking humankind into space by wasting most of it’s lift on wings and landing gear. SpaceX is just a different version of the same “reusable” LEO dead end. Except this time it is a cheaper nastier ego-driven privately owned version. A version much more likely to suddenly self-destruct.

  • It should be mentioned that this is the first outright launch failure of the Falcon 9 in 19 flights. That yields a launch success rate of 95% which is pretty typical for the majority of mature launch vehicle designs over the past few decades.

    • Duquesne

      It is more than a “failure” when a human-rated vehicle blows up just after Max-Q. It is not fair to categorize this as if it just failed to put it’s payload in the right orbit. Trivializing it as “pretty typical” is actually pretty absurd.

      • I’m not trivializing anything, Gary. It is a simple statement of the facts: a 95% success rate is typical for launch vehicles in recent decades. And considering that the Falcon 9 is a “clean sheet” design incorporating little legacy systems with prior use in flight, this success rate may be considered exceptional. Besides, this Falcon 9 launch did not use “human rated” hardware, to the best of my knowledge, so your argument is specious at best.

        • Duquesne

          “spe·cious
          ˈspēSHəs/
          adjective
          adjective: specious

          superficially plausible, but actually wrong.
          “a specious argument”

          At best, you are disingenuous, and misleading. The Falcon 9 is a human-rated vehicle.

          “dis·in·gen·u·ous
          ˌdisənˈjenyo͞oəs/
          adjective
          adjective: disingenuous

          not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.”

          • “The Falcon 9 is a human-rated vehicle”

            No, it isn’t. SpaceX and NASA are currently in the process of human-rating the Falcon 9 but it has yet to be certified as such. In addition, I am unaware that this particular flight of the CR-7 was actually using a version of the Falcon 9 incorporated human-rated hardware and processes. I readily admit that I could be wrong on this latter point but if you or another poster can point me to an independent reference that clearly states that this 19th Falcon 9 flight incorporated a significant amount of human-rated hardware (enough to be considered a flight of a human-rated version of the Falcon sans the official certification), I will readily admit my error.

            • Duquesne

              “No, it isn’t. SpaceX and NASA are currently in the process of human-rating the Falcon 9-”

              And blowing up is just a “pretty typical” part of that “process.” Right.
              Who is being specious now?

              • By your reasoning, the failure of the 19th flight of the Titan II ICBM (vehicle number N-20 launched on May 29, 1963) should have been proof that the man-rated Titan II GLV(which was still ten months from its first test flight) would be ill-suited in its role to orbit NASA’s Gemini when in fact it never suffered a single failure in a dozen launches. Until the cause of this recent failure is determined, it is premature to be making pronouncements about the fate of the human-rated Falcon 9.

                • Duquesne

                  “By your reasoning,…..”

                  Don’t go there; don’t start thinking you are sitting in judgement of my reasoning process. You are not and it’s not 1963 and the Falcon 9 is not Titan II.

                  • And a single failure of a rocket whose cause has yet to be determined says nothing about the future use of that rocket including human-rating it.

                    • Duquesne

                      When a vehicle intended to carry astronauts blows up in flight it says…..something. Some people are just not listening. Process that.

                  • Gary's Drinking Game

                    I will sit in judgement of your reasoning process

    • Joe

      Hi Andrew,

      I do not want to nit pick, but the success rate for most mature booster systems is 98%. The Space Shuttle for instance achieved 98.5%.

      That 3% to 3.5% may sound trivial, but when dealing with a vehicle intended to carry passengers; it is not.

      In any case 19 flights is to small a number to begin attaching statistical significance to such percentages.

      The real questions here are what was the cause of the incident and how difficult will it be to resolve? None of us (and that apparently includes SpaceX) knows the answer to those questions at this time.

      • Joe, I do agree that more modern launch vehicles (especially human-rated systems like the Shuttle or the Soyuz) are closer to 98% than 95% but, as you point out, 19 launches is hardly a statistically significant sample. Besides, as I have pointed out elsewhere, one launch failure out of 19 flights of a “clean sheet” design rocket could be considered pretty exceptional. Even the Delta IV Heavy failed in its first flight a decade ago. Besides, to the best of my knowledge (please correct me if I am wrong), this particular launch of the Falcon 9 did not use “human rated” hardware.

        • Joe

          Andrew,

          First I am not trying to “kick SpaceX while they are down”. I am very skeptical of them due to Musk’s grandiose claims of 100’s (even 1,000’s) of flights/year and colony’s on Mars by 2030, but I am neutral as to the significance of this particular instance.

          My real point here is that playing statistics with the current situation is not dispositive. Just as an example the Falcon 9 v1.1 (essentially a new vehicle) did not fly until the sixth “Falcon 9” launch making its actual failure rate at the moment 1 out of 14 (about 93%).

          As far as whether or not the current Falcon 9 hardware is human rated, one of the main arguments from SpaceX supporters (at least until now) has been that Dragon/Falcon 9 is superior to CST-100/Atlas 5 because the Dragon Vehicle and the Falcon 9 are already operational (with only the “trivial” jobs of life support and crew accommodations to be completed).

          Again, in my opinion, this particular incident should be considered separately from all that. The current questions to be answered are:

          – What was the cause of the incident?
          – How difficult will it be to resolve?

          When (and if) the answers to those questions are known, it will then (and only then) be possible to access the impacts on any future SpaceX plans.

          • Joe, I am very much a SpaceX “agnostic”. While I do not buy into everything SpaceX states or dreams about for the future, I certainly wish them luck. So,
            I appreciate what you are saying and I think it is safe to say we are in general agreement about the significance (or insignificance, as the case may be) of this incident. I’m content to let the experts at SpaceX and NASA sort through all this and come to a solution (whatever that may turn out to be).

      • Duquesne

        “The real questions here are what was the cause of the incident and how difficult will it be to resolve?”

        I agree and believe the cause is plain to see and a virtual replay of the Challenger disaster in that respect. The resolution will be to stop going cheap and that means the end of SpaceX as we know it.

  • […] of the Progress M-27M launch vehicle failure and in recent weeks has also been overshadowed by the catastrophic 28 June loss of SpaceX’s CRS-7 Dragon cargo ship, which was carrying the first International Docking Adapter (IDA-1) in support of future Commercial […]

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  • […] face of the station’s Harmony node—would have been the primary Commercial Crew interface, but was lost in a launch failure on 28 June. The IDA-2 adapter will now assume the primary role, with IDA-3 to be assembled from spare parts […]

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