Private Space Launch Failure

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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.

NEXT: Small Pieces Loosely Joined

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  1. This is a shame but at least Musk seems to have the right attitude about these sorts of things. Of course, it could just be PR window dressing but something tells me that he has a real handle on the situation. It would be tremendous if they could go again in less than 6 months.

  2. Hope they keep at it. Looks like they are on the right track–no one said spaceflight was easy.

    Sic itur ad astra.

  3. Come on private market! This isn’t rocket science!

  4. How do private companies like DirecTV launch satellites currently?

  5. How do private companies like DirecTV launch satellites currently?

    They pay NASA, The European Space Agency or the Russkies to do it. I think the Japanese, Chinese and Indians are getting into the act now (if they aren’t already in).

    But needless to say these are all government agencies (although they contract out a lot to private firms).

  6. Issac Bartram:
    You can also use a Altas or Delta to launch a satellite. These two rockets are provided by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Private companies not governments. They are derived from rockets developed for government purposes though.

    The only launch vehicle that I can think of that might be mostly or entirely privately funded is Orbital Science’s Pegasus and Tuarus rockets.

  7. Also NASA has not launched private satellites since the since the 1980’s.

  8. I stand corrected.

    However Lockheed Martin and Boeing do use NASA facilities for their launches (I can watch them from my front yard, they’re quite spectacular, especially at night), and while they pay for the use of those facilities government accounting being what it is I’m not really sure they’re not getting a pretty decent subsidy (or conversely if Lockheed Martin and Boeing aren’t getting thoroughly hosed*).

    *Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Mrs Lockheed, Mrs Martin and Mrs Boeing didn’t raise any stupid children, after all.

  9. I can watch them from my front yard, they’re quite spectacular, especially at night

    That must be so cool.

  10. omg lol space lol

  11. How do private companies like DirecTV launch satellites currently?

    They pay NASA, The European Space Agency or the Russkies to do it. I think the Japanese, Chinese and Indians are getting into the act now (if they aren’t already in).

    But needless to say these are all government agencies (although they contract out a lot to private firms).

    Yeah. But there’s new stuff coming through the pipeline too. It won’t be too many more years before it’ll be fairly cheap and easy for private industry to put small payloads (read: satallites) in orbit. Surely, bigger payloads will follow.

    Just think, someday you might be able to put your whole house in orbit — for a small fee. Now that would be cool. It’d give a whole new meaning to the idea of zip codes.

    I just wonder if the either the government or the environmentalists are going to step in and stop it. There’s already all kinds of rumbles in the aerospace world about “space garbage” and how we’ve got to stop putting things up there.

    Oh, yeah. And we have to stop this “militarizing space” crap too, if you listen to the grape vine. The Russians (surprise) are already protesting US militarization of space.

    So if you want to put your house in orbit you’ll probably have to give up your guns.

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

    Kind of a good spin way of saying “everything was fine until it blew up”.

    I hope they keep trying as I want to visit space before I’m 60.

  13. Well, looking at the history of aviation development around the world, there’s always been a period of blow-ups, crashes, deaths, etc. until they figure out how to get around the problems.

    My worry is our “safe no matter what” attitude is causing problems with the development of next-generation technology in the US.

  14. That must be so cool.

    I am fifty miles away, though, so I have to wait until they’re over the treetops. But even from that distance they are a sight; they do light up the sky at night. And I guess I’d have to admit there’s over a million others that get the same view here in Central Florida. The main problem is following when they get shot off.

    I did watch the Challenger explosion from the back door of the office I was working at at the time. That was not so cool.

    The guys I envy are the guys I know who grew up at the Cape when their dads were in the space program. They say the ground shook for miles around when the Saturns were launched.

  15. So if you want to put your house in orbit you’ll probably have to give up your guns.

    They’ll get my disrupter when they pry it from my cold, dead spacesuit claw.

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