This morning during their standard Static Fire test procedure the Falcon 9 tasked with launching the Spacecom Amos-6 satellite exploded during the countdown to the static fire.
SpaceX have confirmed that the Amos-6 payload was lost due to the explosion, however there were no personnel lost due to standard procedures during tanking operations.
At present there is no information available as to the cause of the explosion or what impact this will have on the aggressive launch schedule that SpaceX has. It can be assumed there will be some impact but will depend on a number of factors including:
- How much damage was caused to the pad?
- The visible damage to the pad doesn’t look too bad, however it is very likely that significant damage was caused to the infrastructure aroundthe pad which will take time to replace/repair.
- How much damage was caused to the strongback part of the Transporter Erector Launcher?
- The strongback took the brunt of the explosion and looks to be severe damaged and may not be salvageable. This would need to be replaced as it is unlikely that the spare at 39A will work on SLC-40.
- What caused the explosion?
- Unconfirmed reports indicate that the issue was internal to the 2nd stage of the rocket. Elon Musk tweeted that it originated around the Oxygen tank but no further details yet available.
We can be sure that SpaceX will recover from this just as they did after the CRS-7 launch in June 2015, they will determine what caused the issue, what needs to be done to address it and when they can resume operations. In the meantime they will need to do damage control with there customer especially those who were counting on launches this year that could be delayed now.
Once further information is available we will post it here.
Update 9/1/2016 @ 1:19pm EDT
Update 9/2/2016 @ 8:30am EDT
Based on the amount of damage likely at SLC-40 it will be quite some time before SpaceX can launch from there again, however that may not be as significant an issue as it could have been because they have a second launch pad nearby a LC-39A. At present this pad is still be refurbished ready to support Falcon Heavy and Falcon crewed launches however it is likely this could be finished sooner than any repairs at SLC-40.
On the 5th July Elon Tweeted the following
However it is now 11 days later and we still haven’t heard any news on what caused the 28th June explosion that doomed the CRS-7 mission to the International Space Station.
Does the lack of news mean that they found something that they cannot explain or worse still found something that involved another party and need to handle the issue careful?
At this time it is difficult to say what is happening, all we know or certain is that NASA and the FAA are closely monitoring the investigation and I am sure we will hear eventually what they found and what needs to be done to address it.
In the meantime we will continue to speculate on what it could have been as is human nature and then see how close or far from the truth we were.
This morning SpaceX suffered the first failure of their Falcon 9 rocket as it explode two minutes into the CRS-7 mission. Initial data from Elon Musk indicates that an over-pressure event happened on the second stage.
This was the first time since the third flight of Falcon 1 that SpaceX has suffered a mission ending failure, they have had minor issues during launch including loss of engine (this caused a secondary payload to be lost but primary mission was successful) and an issue with Dragon after deployment (which was later resolved).
Since that Falcon 1 failure in August 2008 SpaceX have launched 20 rockets include 18 Falcon 9 vehicles all reaching orbit successfully, quite an achievement for a new launch provider.
The true test of what SpaceX are made of happens now as they review the data from the failure today, what changes they need to make to address the issue, how open they are about the failure and how quickly they turn this around and start launching rockets again. One advantage that SpaceX have over other people as stated by COO Gwynne Shotwell is the fact that they make most of the parts of the rockets so don’t have to seek data from other parties.
While it is sad that this happened on a NASA International Space Station (ISS) launch it is also a blessing in some respects as we are more likely to hear more information about the failure than if it had been for a commercial customer’s launch.
Over the coming days SpaceX will review thousands of pieces of data and any debris that the teams were able to recover to fully determine what happened.
Initial indications show that the Dragon capsule actually survived the initial explosion of the rocket and continued to transmit data afterwards, most likely stopping when it impacted the ocean. One change that we hope for future flights of Cargo Dragon (just in case) is a way for Mission Control to be able to deploy the chutes during an non-nominal event, this potentially could have allowed Dragon to splashdown safely in the ocean just as a Crewed Vehicle is designed to.
UPDATE – Elon this morning tweeted an update on the investigation
Following a scrub yesterday due to a boat breaking the range safety keep out area the Orbital Sciences Orb-3 mission made another attempt today. Following a very some and uneventful countdown the Antares rocket carrying the ‘Deke Slayton’ Cygnus lifted off on time at 6:22pm EDT, unfortunately approximately 6 seconds later a catastrophic failure occurred causing the rocket to explode and come crashing back to the launchpad.
Orbital Sciences have instigated a failure investigation team which will be led by Richard Straka, Deputy General Manager of Orbital’s Launch Systems Group. The investigation team will include representatives from NASA, Orbital, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops, Va.
Reports on NASA TV indicate significant damage to the launch pad and fires could be seen burn over a wide area after the explosion. All range personnel have been accounted for.
This is certainly a setback for Orbital Sciences, the Commercial Cargo program and the numerous science teams that had payloads on Cygnus, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on future launches for the other suppliers to the station. However until the cause of the anomaly is known and resolved we seriously doubt there will be any further Cygnus launches to the station.
We will continue to update this post as further information becomes available.
A serious anomaly occurred during the latest flight of SpaceX reusable test rocket F9R resulting in the Flight Termination Software destroying the rocket. This was the first test flight of the three engine test vehicle which is designed to fly higher than the single engine vehicles that had been tested up to this point. Elon Musk acknowledged the explosion on his twitter account.
Several video’s have appeared online of the test flight and it seems clear that the rocket was having issues well before it exploded as it can be seen diverting left and right and appeared to flip over just before it exploded.
What does this mean for SpaceX?
First let us now forget that this is a test vehicle and therefore there was no guarantee that it would work, so far SpaceX have had a lot of success with the Grasshopper and F9R test flights but as they continue to push the limits something was bound to happen.
Second these tests are for the re-usability functionality that SpaceX are planning for the future where they plan to return the first stages to the launch pad so that they can be reused. The design of this vehicle is also different, while the stage is the same size as the full Falcon 9 there were only three engines on this one not the full nine that would be found on a standard first stage. And let us not forget that NO-ONE else is even attempting to do this.
However the timing isn’t ideal, just today the FAA approved the test flights of the DragonFly vehicle which is designed to test the propulsive landing capabilities of the Dragon spacecraft, also today the static fire test for the AsiaSat-6 launch was performed and appears to have been successful and finally the CCtCap awards are just around the corner and this failure could cause some in Congress to question awarding SpaceX with the CCtCap agreement until the results of the failure investigation are made available.
What happens next?
SpaceX have not said if this failure will have an impact on the launch of the AsiaSat-6 satellite next Wednesday morning. They will be reviewing the data from the static fire test and will then holder a final review meeting to determine if the launch can proceed. Should they decide they need more time due to this failure that would be decided then.
SpaceX will no doubt perform a full review of the F9R test flight to determine what happened and what needs to be done to address the issue. However the data they are collecting from the F9R is being supplemented by the successful return flights of the full Falcon 9 missions, while the two AsiaSat launches didn’t allow the full return test due to needing more fuel to launch the next Dragon flight to the ISS SpX-4 is due to launch in September and will allow another test to be performed. SpaceX have already announced that they will soon attempt to land on a barge however no further details are available at the moment.
We have no doubt that SpaceX’s competitors will be jumping all over this failure regardless of the fact that it was a test flight and we are also sure that those on congress how have voiced opposition to SpaceX will also try to make the most of this.
The key question for us is how will SpaceX handle this?