SpaceX Falcon 9 explodes during static fire test countdown

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.

SpaceX nails the GTO Landing

SpaceX successfully launched the JCSAT 14 satellite this week for SKY Perfect JSAT, and once again landed the Falcon 9 first stage on the ASDS “Of Course I Still Love You”.

Unlike the landing during the CRS-8 mission this was more complicated due to the speed of the first stage booster at separation. According to a SpaceX spokesperson during the live broadcast the stage was travelling twice as fast. This required that three of the engines be used for the landing burn instead of the one previously.

During the broadcast it almost looked like the first stage had crashed into OCISLY but once the smoke cleared and the lights on the drone ship came on it was clear that the stage was sitting almost in the center of the landing zone. This is the third landing of the Falcon 9 first stage and as Elon Musk tweeted they are going to need to find more space if they keep this going.

Video of the Launch and Landing can be found here

SpaceX CRS-8 launches successfully – First Stage Lands

crs8patchTen months after the failed CRS-7 launch SpaceX resumed their servicing missions to the International Space Station today with the successful launch of their Dragon spacecraft.

Following a smooth countdown the Falcon 9 lifted off at 4:43 pm EDT to begin a 10 minute climb to orbit.

As with previous launches SpaceX also attempted to land the first stage on the Drone Ship after it had completed it’s job getting the 2nd stage and Dragon on their way.  Unlike previous attempts to land on the Drone Ship this time they were successful.

Dragon is now in orbit and making it’s way towards a capture on Sunday.

Launch Video

Landing Video

SpaceX launches SES-9

SpaceX_SES-9SpaceX continued it’s 2016 launch campaign today with the successful delivery of the SES-9 satellite to orbit.  This was the third successful launch since the June 2015 failure and the second launch of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust version of the rocket.

SpaceX attempted the launch several times but had to scrub due to several reasons including LOX cooling/loading issues, wayward boats and severe wind sheer.

The vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 18:35 EST today following a smooth countdown.  Once in orbit the second stage re-started to allow the payload to be delivered to the desired orbit.

To allow SES to make the SES-9 satellite operational as quickly as possible SpaceX forgo the chance to return the first stage to the Cape and instead elected to attempt another landing at sea on there Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship “Of Course I still Love You”.

Below are screen grabs of the launch

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SpaceX achieve another important milestone

While driving to work this morning I heard how SpaceX suffered another setback yesterday due to the destruction of the first stage after it landed.

It seems to me that people are focusing on the wrong thing here, yes the end result of the EXPERIMENTAL LANDING was a failure because they were not able to recover the first stage.

First Stage approaching Drone Ship
First Stage approaching Drone Ship

However SpaceX did achieve an important milestone yesterday, they were able to land the first stage on the Drone Ship which was floating in the pacific ocean, this in itself is an amazing achievement and further proves that they are moving in the right direction.

The reason the first stage was lost was due to the failure of one of the landing legs to log into place correct, as explained by Elon Musk himself.

I have no doubt that SpaceX will determine what changes are needed to the landing leg system to ensure that that the failure can’t happen again.

So in summary yes another destroyed first stage but also further progress in recovering them.

SpaceX returns to flight and sticks the landing

SpaceX returned to flight operations yesterday after an almost six month break following the June CRS-7 accident.  During that time SpaceX took the opportunity to upgrade the rocket the changes which included denser liquid oxygen, longer second stage allowed them to provide more thrust (approx 30%) while also keep enough fuel to attempt a landing back at Cape Canaveral.

The upgraded rocket known as the Falcon 9 Full Trust performed flawlessly delivering the 11 ORBCOMM satellites to there designated orbits as well as landing the first stage, something that they had attempted at sea several times but never actually achieved with the flight F9.

We haven’t heard if the second stage re-light test was successful or not, this wasn’t needed for this flight but will be important for the SES launch coming up soon.

An exciting new era is space launch has opened up with this landing and despite the war of words between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (whose Blue Origin recently landed there own first stage) and SpaceX’s Elon Musk on which achievement was more technically challenging we are going to see changes in the industry because of it.

Why is Elon Musk involved in wide range of technologies

Elon Musk has made a number of headlines over the years for the different technologies that he is involved in.  In this article we will look at each of these and how we believe they will be relevant for a future colony on Mars.

Rockets and Spacecraft (SpaceX)

SpaceX have made quite a name for themselves with the introduction of the Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon Cargo capsule and is working on the Dragon Crew capsule as well as a more powerful engine currently named Raptor.

However they are not just looking to launch stuff into space, SpaceX were the first and currently only commercial provider for the International Space Station to provide cargo return to Earth.  They are also working on landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket initial on a ocean bound platform but longer term return to land.  The next test of this is scheduled for there first Return to Flight after the June lose of mission.  Eventually the Dragon Crew capsule will also offer propulsive landing capabilities.  They have also streamlined the production of the rockets to reduce costs.

So how is this relevant to Mars?  The ability to land on the surface of Mars will be critical to any manned mission, the technology that SpaceX are working on will enable this.  In addition in the future crew will need the ability to launch from Mars having a streamlined production system using local resources will enable this.

Internet Satellites (SpaceX)

Elon announced early this year that SpaceX would be building a fleet of satellites that would provide global Internet service.  Built at there new Redmond, Washington location the fleet will be based on a new, low-cost, high-performance satellite bus.

So how is this relevant to Mars? In the short-term this may not seem relevant to Mars however we disagree, while a base may be small the ability to communicate with vehicles and crews as they adventure around Mars will be critical and being able to do this with a fleet of spacecraft will enable that.

Solar Power Generation (Solar City)

Solar City are one of the biggest providers of residential solar systems in the US and they continue to set records for the amount of power that is generated.

So how is this relevant to Mars? Solar Power will be key to future bases on Mars, with the resistance to Nuclear Power in space and the initial lack of power stations on Mars there will need to be a way of generating power when the crew first arrives.  Longer term Methane based power plants could be built.

Power Batteries (Tesla Energy)

Elon recently announced a series of Batteries that will be sold by Tesla Energy both for home and commercial installations.  These batteries will enable people to store power that is generated either from Solar Panels or during off-peak times and use it during the night, peak times or during power cuts, etc.

So how is this relevant to Mars? Just as on Earth Solar Power isn’t always available having the batteries for a colony will be critical.  Even if a Methane based power plant was built having batteries would give coverage should there be a problem with the plant.

High Speed Transport (Hyperloop)

Elon introduced the Hyperloop concept in 2013 announcing it as the fifth mode of transport.  Since them Hyperloop Technologies, Inc has been created and SpaceX themselves have announced a Hyperloop competition to test out designs.

So how is this relevant to Mars?  While this may not be needed for an initial base on Mars as a colony starts to grow and spread out on the planet being able to quickly and efficient move people around in an air tight system would be needed.

Summary

It seems clear to us that Elon Musk has put a lot of work and thought into a future colony on Mars, all the technology listed above has uses both on Earth and also in the future on Mars.

There are plenty of other technologies that will be needed Habitats, Green houses, etc there are other people working on these pieces of the puzzle.

 

SpaceX moves a step closer to Return To Flight

SpaceX has completed the first static fire test of their enhanced Falcon 9 rocket as they move closer to return to flight.  The upgraded rocket (name not yet known) uses Full Thrust Merlin 1D engines, previous flights the engines had only been run at 85% thrust.

This upgrade which was already in the works before the June accident that has grounded the Falcon 9 will allow larger payloads to be launched and still allow the company to attempt to land the first stage.

See video below of the test at SpaceX’s Mcgregor, Texas test site.

When will Falcon 9 Return to Flight

It has been 9 weeks since the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch failure, and with the exception of one update from Elon Musk on 20th July we have not heard anything further on the return to flight of the Falcon 9.

The initial investigation found that a strut in the second stage oxygen tank failed at 1/5 the load it was designed to withstand resulting in the helium bottle used to pressurize the tank dislodging and catastrophically damaging the tank, this lead to the explosion and failure of the mission.  During the announcement into the failure it became clear that this part had not been tested internally by SpaceX before the accident, subsequent tests showed that other samples of the strut also failed below their designed limits.

It became clear very quickly after the accident that Dragon had survived the initial explosion and was seen flying away from the exploding rocket.  This was confirmed by Elon and they continued to receive telemetry from Dragon until if dropped beyond the horizon.  Unfortunately the vehicle was lost when it crashed into the ocean.

During the initial report Elon announced several changes that would be coming for future flights which are expected to resume in September.

  1. SpaceX will no longer use these particular structs within the vehicle – It is our understanding that this part is useful throughout the vehicle so this change itself will be quite significant, as they already have cores built we also don’t know how much work it will be to modify those.
  2. SpaceX will implement additional hardware quality audits throughout the vehicle – This will add additional time to the build process and therefore additional cost, some of which may be passed on to customers, although Elon indicated that may not be the case.
  3. SpaceX will update the Dragon software to allow deployment on chutes in case of future failures – Elon indicated that this this was just a software change, if so that would be a relatively easy change as deployment is already build in for return.

So the question now is when will the flights resume and what will be the first payload to be flown?

Update: We have seen several comments that indicate that RTF could be November or even end of year.  With no news from SpaceX it is hard to dispute or verify these statements.  For now we are sticking with a September RTF pending further official information from SpaceX.

Update 8/31: It would appear from comments by SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell that RTF is still a couple of months away (see tweets below)

Shotwell also announced that RTF will also be the first flight of the more powerful Merlin engines

Update 9/1: Further news today regarding SpaceX missions later this year, the CRS-8 mission to ISS is now scheduled to fly 9/15 according to the post below. The mission will still carry the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module in the trunk.

SpaceX releases preliminary data on 6/28 Falcon 9 failure

More than three weeks ago during the launch of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station the Falcon 9 second stage suffered an anomaly that resulted in the lost of the spacecraft and its payloads.

Today Elon Musk announced that the preliminary investigation into the accident indicates that a strut inside the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) tank on the 2nd stage failed causing the liquid helium bottle to dislodge and hit the top of the LOX tank causing the explosion.  Elon stressed multiple times during the call that this is a preliminary result so far.

 

SpaceX have tested 1000s of the struts since the accident and have found a number of failures below rated value, including one that failed below 2,000 lbs.

During the call Elon admitted that SpaceX did not perform Quality Control on the strut that failed and instead relied in the part meeting the specification as provided by the supplier.  They will be revising their processes to ensure all parts of the rocket are fully QCed for future flights.  While this will increase SpaceX costs during construction of the rocket they didn’t expect it to have much if any of an impact on the cost of the rocket.

Elon also announced that Dragon V1 didn’t have the ability to deploy the chutes in case of an emergency during ascent, the next flight will have the ability should it be needed which would have most likely have resulted in pressurized cargo being saved. They expect to delay flights until September but at present don’t know who will be the first flight manifest will most likely change.  Again because this is preliminary so may change should another cause become obvious.

Elon also announced that due to the investigation the flight of Falcon Heavy will most likely be delayed until April 2016.  

Elon also admitted that most of the people who now work for SpaceX have never seen a failure due to all the successful launches in the last seven years.  This had caused most of them to become complacent about the difficulty of launching rockets.  They have now learned the hard way just what is involved.