Private Space Launch Failure


Some bad news from C/Net for private space aficianados:

The first attempt by privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, to launch a low-cost rocket ended quickly. Saturday's flight of the 70-foot, two-stage Falcon 1 rocket from a U.S. base on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean's Marshall Islands lasted only about a minute.

At SpaceX's Web site, Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and a PayPal founder as well, wrote of the mishap and its potential causes, and gives some context and generally exhibits the kind of chin-up, can-do attitude that is necessary to make this risky, but terribly important, field of human endeavor eventually work smoothly and (relatively) safely:

The good news is that all vehicle systems, including the main engine, thrust vector control, structures, avionics, software, guidance algorithm, etc. were picture perfect. Falcon's trajectory was within 0.2 degrees of nominal during powered flight.

However, at T+25s, a fuel leak of currently unknown origin caused a fire around the top of the main engine that cut into the first stage helium pneumatic system….Once the pneumatic pressure decayed below a critical value, the spring return safety function of the pre-valves forced them closed, shutting down the main engine at T+29s.

…..Falcon was executing perfectly on all fronts until fire impaired the first stage pneumatic system.

Our plan at this point is to analyze data and debris to be certain that the above preliminary analysis is correct and then isolate and address all possible causes for the fuel leak…….

I cannot predict exactly when the next flight will take place, as that depends on the findings of this investigation and ensuring that our next customer is comfortable that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure reliability. However, I would hope that the next launch occurs in less than six months.

It is perhaps worth noting that those launch companies that succeeded also took their lumps along the way. A friend of mine wrote to remind me that only 5 of the first 9 Pegasus launches succeeded; 3 of 5 for Ariane; 9 of 20 for Atlas; 9 of 21 for Soyuz; and 9 of 18 for Proton…..SpaceX is in this for the long haul and, come hell or high water, we are going to make this work.