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.
There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 28, 2015
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
Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 29, 2015