SpaceX Rocket Reaches Orbit After Engine Explodes

SpaceX has the contract for sending supplies up to the ISS, provided that it's first launch is successful. Well, it went up yesterday and is orbiting successfully. However, upon examination of telemetry and slow motion video, it was discovered that one of the 9 engines on the booster actually exploded in flight (video at link). It's designed to survive the loss of one engine, and apparently, that's exactly what it did.

Outstanding result!

It now appears that a second stage booster burn did not complete, meaning that while the ISS payload seems to be okay, a telecomm satellite that was also carried did not achieve it's desired orbit. Interesting times.

So, if it didn't achieve the desired orbit, what's going to happen to the satellite?

Probably be space debris for all eternity ... or fall back to Earth.

Kerbal Space Program has given me new appreciation for space exploration and the fact one of the boosters didn't burn makes me angry at the staging setup. Who designed it improperly??!?!

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

So, if it didn't achieve the desired orbit, what's going to happen to the satellite?

Insurance claim at the ready, starboard bow!

Duoae wrote:
tuffalobuffalo wrote:

So, if it didn't achieve the desired orbit, what's going to happen to the satellite?

Insurance claim at the ready, starboard bow!

Aye! Aye!

If true, the loss of any secondary payload may have been deliberate in order to ensure successful delivery of the primary payload into LEO. Depending on whether or not the satellite is functional, it'll either remain as orbiting junk or, if possible, be deorbited and intentionally brought down. Either way, insurance will pick up the tab for the loss.

SpaceX has issued a statement saying that the engine didn't explode, but it was shut down after a loss of pressure:

http://www.spacex.com/updates.php

Definitely curious to hear about the fate of the Orbcomm satellite -- all we have for the moment is a theory that the second stage engine didn't reignite to push the satellite in to its preferred orbit:

http://planet4589.org/space/jsr/late...

Even if that's the case, it could be completely unrelated to the engine failure on the first stage.

It's super-cool to see everything still work after this failure. I think Falcon 9 is the first orbital launch vehicle designed to handle a loss of a first-stage engine at any point during the launch -- Saturn V and the Shuttle had some engine-out capability (which was demonstrated during flights), but losing the wrong engine at the wrong time could result in an abort and, with the Shuttle, a potential loss of vehicle and potentially crew. Still, there's only of those engines in the second stage, and if that failed, it'd definitely end the mission, so it's still critical that this gets fixed.

I'm particularly curious to see if these issues are due to design flaws that have only just come to light, or due to faults in manufacturing or QA as SpaceX scales up the number of engines and vehicles it's building. We won't have good answers until SpaceX investigates, but if their responses to previous incidents are anything to go by, they'll be going through everything with a fine-toothed comb to find the cause (or causes), and then get them fixed.

It seems that the second stage had to burn a bit longer to get Dragon in to the correct orbit, due to the engine failure in the first stage. This left it with insufficient fuel to complete a burn to place the Orbcomm satellite in an orbit beyond the station, so instead the burn was aborted, which is why the satellite was left in the lower orbit.

http://spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/00...

It's unfortunate, but I'm sure the price of the launch would have been an absolute bargain, especially compared to buying a dedicated launcher for it. It'll be interesting to see if this changes Orbcomm's plans to use Falcon 9s to launch their production satellite fleet, but I'd be very surprised if it did.