Was the SpaceX accident due to Sabotage?

As we continue to wait for information from SpaceX on the cause of the Jun 28th accident that resulted in the loss of the CRS-7 mission a number of people have asked this question.

Today we want to look at this scenario and see just how unlikely it is.

It is no secret that SpaceX have made waves in the space launch industry with there pricing and until this flight the success of the Falcon 9 rocket. To start our investigation we start with SpaceX themselves.

If someone internally was able to sabotage the vehicle this would present some major issues for SpaceX including.

1) During the US Air Force certification Security would have been discussed due to the nature of some of the payloads. If SpaceX were not able to stop an employee from sabotaging the rocket that would impact any chances of getting USAF launches in the future.

2) Security is also important to Commercial customers as they don’t want anyone just walking into the assembly building and being able to mess with their payload.

3) If SpaceX’s processes are so lack that someone was left alone long enough with the rocket to be able to sabotage it they again would have some difficult questions to answer from customers.

The next suspect that has been mentioned several times is Boeing, while they are competitors both in space launch with United Launch Alliance and Commercial Crew there is no real benefits to Boeing in destroying SpaceX at this point.

1) Boeing need the International Docking Adapter that was destroyed in the accident in order to dock their CST-100 spacecraft to the station. At present Dragon is the only vehicle capable of transporting it.

2) If sabotage was proven against Boeing it would severely damage their reputation within the market place both with NASA and Commercially and while they have a proven success record they would be remember more for this than the successes.

Other Commercial Cargo/Crew competitors
There is no doubt that this accident came at a very inconvenient time for SpaceX with the award of the CRS-2 contracts coming in September. And this could benefit some of the other players however just as with Boeing any provable sabotage would have a negative impact on their chances.

Russia have had their own launch issues recently with the Proton launch issues, the Progress failure earlier this year. If they were not having all of these reliability issues they would certainly benefit from SpaceX failing or becoming more expensive as a result of the accident. However it seems very unlikely that Russia would waste the resources needed to convince someone at SpaceX to sabotage the rocket or be able to sneak someone into place to be able to do so.

Arianespace/European Space Agency
It is no secret that some European leaders do not like SpaceX due to the disruption they have caused. However as with the other competitors it is very unlikely that they would bother waste resources to sabotage SpaceX, again any provable sabotage would damage there reputation.

We can’t dismiss China at this point, they have shown they are capable of achieving manned spaceflight joining only a small group of nations. And while they would probably not care what others think if provable sabotage was proven it would still cause political issues longer term and there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to China.

So in summary the chances of sabotage are very small as no-one really would benefit from it and it would force SpaceX to face some serious questions about their processes/security.

Russia suffers second launch failure in 2 weeks

An International Launch Services (ILS) Proton-M rocket lifted off from Pad 39 in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan early this morning carrying a Mexican communications satellite (MexSat-1). The initial part of the flight appeared to be nominally however at approximately 500 seconds something went wrong on the rocket’s third stage resulting in the loss of the satellite.

The state-owned Tass news agency reported the preliminary cause of the accident was in the steering engine on the Proton’s third stage. A Russian space industry source quoted by Tass said the rocket likely fell back to the ground from an altitude of 160 kilometers — about 100 miles — and burned up in the atmosphere, any debris that survived re-entry is believed to have crashed near the Siberian City of Chita.

This is the second Russian launch failure in the last three weeks with the loss of the Progress 59 spacecraft following an anomaly during launch. Progress has had a spotty history recently with three satellites lost last year due to failures as well.

There are five other Proton launches scheduled for this year, these are now likely to be delayed while an investigation is performed into this failure and any changes needed to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

What impact does this have for the future? On it’s own this failure would not have any impact on the International Space Station as Proton is not used for those launches, however with the two failures together this could have a bigger impact. Russia will, as they have in past failures, get to the bottom of this and make the necessary changes to address it.

The bigger impact for them, with competition from SpaceX and other companies, may be the lost of future business as customers look for alternate solutions which have proven to be more reliable.