“An oxidizer-rich shutdown“. That is what SpaceX’s VP of Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Ken Bowersox called the premature shutdown during last December’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Since the December 8th launch, there have been persistent rumors that the Falcon 9 had experienced a significant in-flight anomaly. As late as last June, SpaceX maintained that two of the nine engines in the Falcon’s first stage shut down according to plan ten seconds before the other seven and that there was no engine failure.
One individual, Valdor VP Joseph Fragola, contacted NASA Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O’Connor about rumors of last year’s Falcon 9 launch. For that, SpaceX filed a defamation lawsuit against Fragola last June. SpaceX recently settled its lawsuit with both parties walking away, an implicit admission by SpaceX that there was no “there” there.
SpaceX only came clean on the Falcon 9’s premature engine shutdown just last month during a meeting in Houston with the ISS Advisory Committee and the NASA Safety Advisory Panel, fully 8 months after the incident. At best, SpaceX has been inaccurate, deliberately or not, in its past statements concerning the performance of the Falcon 9 main stage in last year’s flight. Certainly, SpaceX’s misdirection concerning last year’s launch hurts efforts by those who seek to carve-out a market for commercial crewed space flight.
“There was no explanation or root cause analysis or corrective action for this particular anomaly. This is a relatively troublesome statement not to recognize that a premature engine shutdown was a significant event.” – Charles Daniel, Shuttle and Space Station Safety expert at Valador Inc., Member of the ISS Advisory CommitteeMissions » ISS » COTS »