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Space Science

SpaceX Launch Fails To Reach Space 263

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed dept.
azuredrake and many other readers have written to tell us: "The New York Times reports that the third SpaceX launch has failed following the second-stage ignition of the Falcon 1 rocket. The SpaceX launch had three satellites on board, all of which were presumably destroyed in the incident. This marks the third failed launch for SpaceX — twice they failed to reach orbit, and once the Falcon 1 rocket was lost five minutes after launch. While the company vows to carry on, this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry." Reader Nano2Sol points out a video of the launch from a camera on Falcon 1, and notes a small oscillation just prior to the footage being cut off. Spaceflight Now ran a mission update blog leading up to the failure, and they also have more coverage on the loss of the rocket.
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SpaceX Launch Fails To Reach Space

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:11AM (#24455493)

    ...and a whole industry is pronounced dead. Can you be more dramatic?

    • by damburger (981828) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:14AM (#24455511)
      Considering this is the only company building a serious launcher without government involvement, then yes this is an industry wide failure because they are the industry.
    • by dstates (629350) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:21AM (#24455543) Homepage
      Actually, the private space industry is as active today as it has ever been despite decades of failed companies. But the Wall Street Journal reports that SpaceX has received several hundred million dollars of taxpayer investment [wsj.com] that is now being reconsidered. Military planners had anticipated using the company's Falcon family of launchers to boost smaller, less-expensive satellites. NASA has a partnership with SpaceX to develop a rocket to resupply the International Space Station.
    • by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:23AM (#24455551)

      "While the company vows to carry on, this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry."

      ---

      *yawn*

      If Fiat fails, will we call into question the entire automobile industry? There are many companies working on private space flight. Elon Musk's company is only one of them. And given that Musk seems to be VERY well capitalized, I don't see them taking their ball and going home any time soon. Burt Rutan had a pretty spectacular explosion in their engine development process last year that resulted in a few fatalities, but I don't expect them to roll over and play dead either. I'm sure there will be even more failures peppering the process as time goes on...just like in every other industry.

      Too bad about the lost satellites.

      Cheers,

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CraftyJack (1031736)

        given that Musk seems to be VERY well capitalized, I don't see them taking their ball and going home any time soon.

        Elon musk had previously said that they would pack it in if they had three launch failures. He now says that "I consider DemoFlight 2 to be enough of a success, given that it provides us the data to go operational, to put my "three strikes" rule to bed. I'm in this to make SpaceX the world's leading launch provider and then some."
        So while they aren't giving up, it isn't inconceivable that they would.

        • by More_Cowbell (957742) * on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:29PM (#24458167) Journal

          So while they aren't giving up, it isn't inconceivable that they would.

          Felt the need to point out that at least Elon disagrees. Check out the end of his latest message from their website, emphasis mine.

          As a precautionary measure to guard against the possibility of flight 3 not reaching orbit, SpaceX recently accepted a significant investment. Combined with our existing cash reserves, that ensures we will have more than sufficient funding on hand to continue launching Falcon 1 and develop Falcon 9 and Dragon. There should be absolutely zero question that SpaceX will prevail in reaching orbit and demonstrating reliable space transport. For my part, I will never give up and I mean never.
          Thanks for your hard work and now on to flight four.

          --Elon--

          (In a message to Employees, August 2, 2008)

      • by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @02:23PM (#24457685)

        If Fiat fails, will we call into question the entire automobile industry?

        No, you fix it again, Tony.

  • by damburger (981828) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:12AM (#24455497)

    Musk's Giant Firework Company seriously believe they can have Falcon 9 up and running in a few months, and have people inside it 'soon' afterwards [bbc.co.uk].

    I've said it before and this seems to confirm it - entrepreneurs aren't good at rocket science. They look at government funded space programs, and see the redundancy as waste and the precision as bureaucracy. Then when they try and do space cheaper without these things, there are predictably explosions.

    • by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xptical.gmail@com> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:24AM (#24455559) Homepage

      A large portion of NASA's overhead does not come from axillary systems, it comes from managers and politicians.

      • by damburger (981828) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:26AM (#24455573)
        Shit NASA sends up doesn't blow up with this frequency. What you see as pork is probably necessary to the proper running of a space programme, but because everyone is so indoctrinated with the idea of the supremacy of the market you assume it can do things better.
        • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:57AM (#24455719) Homepage Journal
          That's the thing that I wonder about... when you see SpaceX's facilities, they are clearly brare-bones, right down to the launch pad. Obviously they are trying to make their launches cheaper by not "wasting" money.

          Since the three launches have all failed for different reasons, and seemingly reasons not indicating design flaws but rather mundane problems and errors that weren't caught (a rusty bolt, separation failure of the stages, etc.,) it makes me wonder if this is not rather an exposure of a flaw in the business model. Essentially they are all quality-control issues. Could it be that you simply need to have a largish organization to provide the checks and redundancy to catch the flaws that are always going to crop up in a complex system?

          Is this a failure not of the booster, but of a barebones, "cheaper" organizational structure that's just not up to the task?

          • by chuckymonkey (1059244) <<charles.d.burton> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @10:59AM (#24456111) Journal
            You know it is quality control. Where I work I have to be NASA certified in ESD(Electro-Static Discharge) and let me tell you, they are crazy about all the little things. For instance when a bit of equipment is in the high bay you have to go through the clean room, you have to be grounded not only on your hands but your feet as well. Before you every plug anything in to a socket you have to run it over a fan that blows ions at it to negate any electrical charge. They have the craziest quality control that you have ever seen and they still have shit go wrong sometimes.
            • by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @08:53PM (#24461059) Homepage

              Quality is essential in any complex machine. Suppose the shuttle has 1 million critical points of failure. If each of them is 99.999% reliable then the chances of a successful launch is 0.99999^1000000 or 0.0045%. If you want to get off the ground you need to either reduce the number of points of failure (add redundancy or simplify the design), or increase the reliability of the parts (aka quality control).

              If you want your bolts to have a tolerance of 1 um then you need a lathe that is calibrated umpteen times per day. Those bolts get individually packed in cotton and the box it is carried in gets followed by a procession of monks. The wrench used to tighten the bolt is also crafted with similar care, and operated by a $30M robot and not a human. When so much can go wrong the only way to prevent problems is to take extraordinary care with every step of the process. That costs a lot of money.

              Software is the same way - everything is engineered with specs and written in something like ADA with extremely paranoid compile-time checks. Every function is tested on every boundary condition, every function call is carefully traced to ensure that the parameters will be in-range, etc.

              And even so they occasionally lose a launch vehicle - even the best designs. What can you say - it isn't a cheap business to be in. That doesn't rule out private investment, but it does rule out cheap investment. I think that the only way it could be done privately would be if a company had a guarantee of profit in the event they got off the ground - the initial costs are just so high nobody would spend them if NASA might just decide to stick with their own rockets.

          • by element-o.p. (939033) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @12:42PM (#24456889) Homepage
            After enough failures, they will figure out where it's really cheaper to do things, well, cheaper and where it's actually *more expensive* to do things cheaper. How many payloads do you have to lose before it becomes cheaper to add some of the redundancy back in?

            Anyway, it is called rocket science for a reason? Hypothesize, test, analyze results, repeat as required, right?
          • by khallow (566160) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @01:24PM (#24457195)
            Ah, so you see the groundbreaking nature of SpaceX's approach. Going barebones is the major innovation over other launch providers. With three launch failures, SpaceX's attempt isn't working so far, but if it fails, the end result is that only an eccentric rich guy and a few investors are out a large sum of money. If it succeeds, then we not only know that a barebones approach works, but it can immediately begin driving launch costs down globally.
            • by tftp (111690)

              If it succeeds, then we not only know that a barebones approach works, but it can immediately begin driving launch costs down globally.

              It will still be more risky. To fix that you need to build simpler rockets. Look at the STS - its complexity kills its reliability.

              IMO, if SpaceX is to succeed eventually, they have to adopt the same quality control guidelines that everyone else in the world [who is successful enough] is using. That may involve, for example, three signatures just to confirm that J345 is

              • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... t ['etz' in gap]> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @07:22PM (#24460413) Homepage Journal

                The cost of the fuel on a spacecraft is so minor that in most cases it is covered as a part of the "overhead" of the rocket instead of even being considered as a significant cost center for rocketry development. Something like about 1% of the cost of actually sending something up. Even if you triple the cost of kerosene, it will be something still so minor that it is hardly something to even bring up to the customer.

                The expense of rocket design has do to with the engineers and exotic metals, as well as production workers who have specialized skill like aviation-grade aluminum welding experience. Paying somebody to do that sort of work doesn't come cheap.

                Keep in mind the engineering adage that you can have things built:

                1) sooner (or faster)
                2) cheaper
                3) reliably

                Choose only two of the above options!

                A great many consumer electronics tend to select options 1 & 2. Most of the major military contracts concentrated on options 1 & 3, with the idea that cost really isn't a huge concern for a government like the USA. It is far more important that we have an ICBM that can get up *NOW* instead of sometime next year. The Apollo program especially was one that was "screw the cost, let's just get it done now!"

                SpaceX really is trying to see if they can build a rocket that may take a bit more time to develop, but can be done far cheaper and still maintain reliability. What I hope doesn't happen is that SpaceX engineers and technicians don't get under the pressure to get things done right now as well, in which case you simply end up with an expensive, delayed, and unreliable device. If you try all three approaches at once, you end up eating engineers and throwing lives away in one form or another.

        • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @10:06AM (#24455759) Journal
          It took several years to the NASA in order to achieve their current success ratio. It probably is the same for a private organization. Knowledge and know-how don't come cheap in the rocket business.

          Of course it is a shame (and probably a liable thing) that satellites are destroyed during this phase
          • by CraftyJack (1031736) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @11:25AM (#24456299)

            Knowledge and know-how don't come cheap in the rocket business.

            Which raises the question of whether or not a private organization can afford the learning curve.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by N22YF (870358)
            "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." - Elon Musk, 26 March 2006 [spacefellowship.com]
          • by gnuman99 (746007)

            At the beginning, NASA was doing the quick-and-cheap method of development, hence the failures.

            It was quick because of political pressures to catch up to the Russians.

            It was cheap because you can only spend so much money an hour on a project where the deadline is days, not years away. While the program received MUCH more funding than today, development processes were ad-hoc to say the least. It was only through failures and errors that current redundant and super-safe methods were implemented.

            Comment #24456

        • by francium de neobie (590783) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @10:11AM (#24455783)
          That is not exactly an apples to apples comparison. The Apollo program failed quite a number of times before Apollo 11 was able to reach the moon safely and back. NASA has decades of experience in making spacecrafts, and they're still not completely safe. SpaceX doesn't have the same amount of experience, nor do they have the same generous government funding and public support back in the '60s.

          With other factors being entirely different, it does not follow logically that you can just isolate one factor (funds being paid to politicians and managers vs. no such funds) and conclude that is the cause of SpaceX's troubles.
          • by HuguesT (84078) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @10:57AM (#24456101)

            There was one failure in the Apollo program before XI: Appolo I with an electrical fire on board during a test, that killed all 3 astronauts. After that VII, VIII, IX and X were incident free, as well as XI and XII. XIII had a major problem but made it back home. Until XVII and the cancellation of the program there was no more incident.

            • by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Sunday August 03, 2008 @11:51AM (#24456547) Homepage

              Actually, there were multiple serious incidents... For example: Apollo 14 couldn't dock with the LM while extracting it from the S-IVB stage - so they (literally) rammed the CSM into the LM, exceeding the allowed force to force docking. During the landing, the LM lost the landing radar, rather than aborting the pilot continued the landing. While Apollo 16 was in orbit around the moon, and prior to separating the LM, it was discovered the wiring harness for the CSM propulsion system was seriously damaged. Mission rules required an abort of the landing and a return to Earth (so that the LM propulsion would be available as a backup) - but they waived that rule and proceeded with the mission anyhow. (Not to mention that the accident on 13 wouldn't have happened if they had investigated the faulty LOX tank rather than improvising an emptying procedure and using the equipment outside of it's design specs.)

            • by Mattsson (105422)

              Wonder how many failed test launches the programs that led up to the Titan, Atlas and Apollo rockets had though, before the products was "finalized".

              • by DoraLives (622001) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:05PM (#24461147)

                Wonder how many failed test launches the programs that led up to the Titan, Atlas and Apollo rockets had though, before the products was "finalized".

                I grew up more or less in the shadow of the launch pads at Canaveral, back in the 50's, and can attest that there were a tremendous number of failures back in those days.

                In particular, the Navajo, Atlas, and Polaris programs produced one stupefying fireball after another. And all of the other programs at the time had more than their share of flaming wreckage falling out of the sky.

                To this day, when I watch fireworks, it doesn't really do all that much for me. It just doesn't compare.

                And, as a small child at the time, I had no feelings of loss or remorse when any of these (thankfully unmanned) launch vehicles met their premature demise in the skies above the Atlantic Ocean, but instead loved every minute of it. Helluva damn show!

                They finally got the hang of it (for the most part, anyway), and things quit blowing up on such a regular basis, but for a while there it was really quite spectacular.

                SpaceX has their work cut out for them. In spades.

                I wish them nothing but the very best of luck.

        • by khallow (566160)
          NASA happens to have a larger budget and 50 years of experience. If SpaceX lives that long, you can be sure they'll be more reliable than NASA is now. They'll have to be to stay in business.
      • by dpilot (134227)

        > come from axillary systems

        Are you implying that they have their heads up their armpits?

        Or did you mean "auxiliary systems?"

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      I've said it before and this seems to confirm it - entrepreneurs aren't good at rocket science. They look at government funded space programs, and see the redundancy as waste and the precision as bureaucracy.

      Fortunately the invisible hand of physics won't let them get away with it! Today won't be the last time these guys get an invisible punch in the face if they don't learn their lesson.

    • by mh1997 (1065630) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:42AM (#24455649)

      I've said it before and this seems to confirm it - entrepreneurs aren't good at rocket science. They look at government funded space programs, and see the redundancy as waste and the precision as bureaucracy. Then when they try and do space cheaper without these things, there are predictably explosions.

      Exactly right, private citizens have no right or business being in space.

      If it weren't for this "bureaucracy" (NASA's incredible precision, redundancy, and lack of explosions), where would Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom, Edward White, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Rick Husband, William McCool, and Ilan Ramon be today?

      Luckily, the former Soviet Union also has a perfect record that started at Nedelin where only 126 people died when a rocket exploded.

      China and Bill Clinton also had a problem with an Intelsat 708 where it crashed into a village, but we should just stick with the facts and blame entrepreneurs.

      • by drooling-dog (189103) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @11:30AM (#24456345)

        Exactly right, private citizens have no right or business being in space.

        You're reacting to a point the parent never made. He simply pointed out the hubris that has been so characteristic of the space privatization movement of late. Space flight is hard and requires a huge investment of money, time and talent, whether done by governments or private entities. The "free market" - whatever that is - does nothing to obviate the need for extensive testing, exhaustive engineering, and redundancy that is necessary to achieve consistent success.

        I hear people on this forum and elsewhere talking about space hotels and the like in just a few years through private enterprise, and they seem like naive children to me.

        • by khallow (566160)
          No, the original poster made the claim that entrepreneurs "aren't good" at "rocket science". As if that is relevant to the SpaceX discussion. He then claims that waste in government programs is "redundancy" and bureaucracy is "precision". The overhyped nature of current private space fantasies didn't enter into his post at all.
      • and outside pressures were allowed to override sound engineering decisions.

        Apollo 1 happened because of a combination of "Go Fever" (the pressure to beat the Soviets to the moon) and poor workmanship by a PRIVATE INDUSTRY contractor (North American Aviation).

        Challenger happened because Reagan wanted to use the "Teacher in Space" as a talking point at the next night's State of the Union address, and political pressure caused NASA to override the recommendations of the booster engineers who knew about the beh

        • NASA's failures have happened when bureaucracy and outside pressures were allowed to override sound engineering decisions.

          And? This just underlines the grandparent's point. Entrepreneurs might cut corners to save money. Governments cut corners for other reasons. Nothing inherently superior about the government approach though it is more expensive.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Splab (574204)

      What a load of BS.

      Quite a lot of rockets blew up in the early years of NASA, even rockets carrying humans - that's how you figured out how to make the best height to width ratio for instance. While the programming going on at NASA is schoolbook examples of how it should be done, quite a lot of other things they do are downright insane - like strapping a person to a solid booster rocket.

      • by meringuoid (568297) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @10:18AM (#24455821)
        Quite a lot of rockets blew up in the early years of NASA, even rockets carrying humans

        Only one NASA rocket carrying humans ever blew up, and that was in 1986, killing seven. They lost three to a fire on the pad in 1967, and in 2003 seven more were lost when their vehicle broke apart on re-entry.

        The Soviets have had rockets explode on the pad killing many ground crew, but they've only ever lost four cosmonauts - IIRC, all to re-entry problems.

      • like strapping a person to a solid booster rocket.

        I never considered it that way, but now that I hear it in these terms, I want to be strapped to a solid booster rocket!
    • I personally am as sceptical about the "private enterprise spaceflight" for anything other than satellite launches (for which there is a large well-established market) as the next, er, troll, but to be fair to the SpaceX people: launching into orbit is very, very difficult. It would be really amazing if they'd had no failures at all.

      The good news is that each time a total-loss-of-vehicle accident happens, they get to fix it. Eventually most of such failure modes are identified and fixed. SpaceX are infinit

      • by element-o.p. (939033) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @12:59PM (#24456989) Homepage

        SpaceX are infinitely more likely to reach orbit than Scaled Composites.

        HEY!!! You are dissing one of my heroes!

        In all seriousness, I would be very curious to find out why you think so. I would expect the opposite, in fact. Burt Rutan is very definitely an engineer with decades of aerospace experience under his belt. Elon Musk is neither an engineer nor experienced, at least in aerospace. Reading a recent article on the development of the Tesla Roadster, I found myself shaking my head at some of the design constraints Musk demanded. If he runs SpaceX the same way the article alleged Musk ran Tesla, I am not surprised they are having difficulties.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Greenmoon (656273)

      Nonsense.

      I respect your right to your view, but that's kind of a crazy position to take. There's nothing intrinsically good at rocket science that government has to offer, and there is nothing to support saying that entrepreneurs as a group are all not good at it. "Good at rocket science" comes from the individual experts doing the work. The organization supporting them, be it government, private industry, or druid commune will be successful or not based on the ability to learn from failures and move for

    • I've said it before and this seems to confirm it - entrepreneurs aren't good at rocket science. They look at government funded space programs, and see the redundancy as waste and the precision as bureaucracy. Then when they try and do space cheaper without these things, there are predictably explosions.

      You learn by doing, and that includes learning by failing. Space-X is learning a lot.

      Basically, when you try to revolutionize an industry, you have to accept some risk, and that means risk of failures along the way.

      I'm still cheering them on. Space-X has changed from a group of charmingly enthusiastic but naive innocents into a team of battle-scarred rocket veterans, and done it the hard way. The space entrepreneuring field has far too many naive innocents that promote paper spaceships, and far too f

  • Scotty's final trip (Score:5, Informative)

    by dstates (629350) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:14AM (#24455509) Homepage
    The New York Time reports that the rocket was also carrying the ashes of 208 people [nytimes.com] who had paid to have their remains shot into space, including the astronaut Gordon Cooper and the actor James Doohan, who played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, the wily engineer on the original "Star Trek" television series.
  • by BoldlyGo (1288070) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:21AM (#24455545)

    this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry.

    The government failed quite a few times before they got anything up. Let's not write off private space travel because of three failures.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by damburger (981828)

      Musk and his employees have 50 years of other peoples failure to draw on, computing power for modeling that would've been unimaginable when the first space programmes started, and far superior materials and construction techniques.

      So I am sorry, but this excuse simply doesn't wash with me.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by BoldlyGo (1288070)

        Musk and his employees have 50 years of other peoples failure to draw on

        Because we all know how willing the government is to share technological information.

        They also don't have near the financing or manpower.

        • by westlake (615356)
          Because we all know how willing the government is to share technological information.
          .

          These aren't engineering documents - but they do give you some sense of the resources available through NASA:

          NASA History Series [nasa.gov]

      • I am glad you never taught any of my college courses.

        Launching a payload into orbit is not an easy task. Yes, SpaceX has a lot of other peoples' experience to draw upon, but that still leaves a lot of R&D to be done.

        Also keep in mind that the technology used to launch a payload to orbit is remarkably similar to the technology used to lob a nuclear warhead from one continent to another. I would not be surprised if a lot of the "other peoples' failures" is still classified.
    • this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry.

      The government failed quite a few times before they got anything up. Let's not write off private space travel because of three failures.

      That's kinda like saying "well, early air travel was dangerous so if the first five Boeing 777 Dreamliners crash, they should get a pass". IOW, Bullshit.

    • I mean, it's not rocket scien...

      Oh.

  • "While the company vows to carry on, this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry."

    Yea, right. That is what they told Thomas Edison.

  • It Happens (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abarrow (117740) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:51AM (#24455685) Homepage

    Hey, I'm a child of the 60s. I watched every launch, and attempted launch, that I could. I can't tell you the number of times that NASA blew things up in those early days. Had they quit after only three failures, the world would be a very, very different place today.

    Keep launching SpaceX! You'll succeed and the world will change again...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by smchris (464899)

      I guess I'm a "child" of the 50s, and, yes, I can vaguely remember that sputnik was a real concern because there was failure after failure on the American side. If everything government does these days is evil by definition (and often practice) so we can't continue space exploration collectively, then private enterprise hopefully has a few people with a vague sense of history who will remind them that there are going to be some really deep-pocket expenses up front on space exploitation.

  • by My Iron Lung (834019) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @09:56AM (#24455715)
    I watched this launch last night as it was happening and it was quite a thrilling experience. Better than any NASA launch I have ever seen. They aborted the launch a few times but still went for it. The camera they had on the rocket as it lifted off gave a breathtaking view of the Earth very slowly ascending from it's island launchpad location. Then it just crapped out before it looked like it was anywhere near orbit. I wasn't sure if the mission had been a success or not until the webcast updated that it had been a failure. This is totally awesome. We've been hearing about Space-X on Slashdot for years but this is the first time I've ever given them any real attention. They have 2 more of these Falcon-1 rockets ready, and another launch window near the end of this month. Musk seems absolutely determined to succeed, and I would suspect in 10-15 years these Space-X guys will be the next Lockheed Martin or Boeing.
    • That whole "don't worry, we have two more ready to go" line really puzzles me. Aren't they going to do a full accident investigation, find out what's wrong with the design or QA that enabled it to happen, and fix it, before scheduling future launches? Hmmm, there's a saying about a fool and his money...
  • Spaceflight Now ran a mission update blog leading up to the failure, and they also have more coverage on the loss of the rocket.

    Both of these links tell us nothing we didn't already know. Nothing like following a link labeled "more coverage" to get an almost word-for-word repeat of the blog.

    You'd think they would have a camera filming the launch from the ground somewhere. You can't rely on the camera onboard the vehicle to provide you with any helpful information in the moments of and after an "anomaly".

    • I use to work on Kwajalein, and have a friend who was in mission control all day... I can guarantee you they had a lot of VERY expensive camera systems and radar keeping an eye on that launch. I doubt much if any of that data will ever be made public however.

      As for the "anomaly" thing, the rocket didn't blow up, they hit the big red panic button to blow it up rather than have one large toxic rocket possibly land on something important (although one of the main reasons the Kwajalein Atoll is used, is because there's not much out there, that and the physics advantages of being near the equator).
  • The US Apollo Program [wikipedia.org] suffered only two major setbacks: Apollo 1 killed 3 astronauts, and Apollo 13, already in space, nearly killed its 3 astronauts, but didn't. That programme went from nearly nothing to the Moon in 7 years. With no precedents, with a much lower technology level than today, feeding on a much smaller pool of scientists and engineers, managing a vastly more complex project from scratch.

    Not bad for government work.

    Today, we watch as several parallel teams take decades just to reach orbit. Wi

    • You're mistaking one mission named "Apollo" for the entire space program. Apollo's mission was the moon - before that many other attempts were made for human, primate and no organism spaceflight. (Gemini, Mercury, etc)

      Once you factor in the accidents, cost, and time for everything, and not just the most successful leg I believe you will find that your conclusions need to be reconsidered.

      • by HuguesT (84078)

        The first death were the three for Apollo I and the three near misses for Apollo XIII. There is a case to be made for Apollo to be the worst NASA program until the Shuttle. Mercury and Gemini were both incident free with plenty of people sent to orbit.

        • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @12:15PM (#24456715)

          Mercury and Gemini were both incident free with plenty of people sent to orbit.

          Project Mercury: six manned launches, all successful. total men in orbit: four. (that's fewer than the Shuttle carries on one flight, by the by.

          Project Gemini: ten manned launches, all successful. total men in orbit: sixteen different men - four went up twice.

          Shuttle: 123 flights so far, two unsuccesful. total men in orbit: about 800 (I don't feel like checking each flight for actual crew count, so it's only "about")

          For the Soyuz fans out there: 99 flights, four unsuccessful (defining unsuccessful as either not reaching orbit or crew dying on reentry) OR ten unsuccessful (defining unsuccessful as ay of the above or failing to complete design mission (usually a failure to dock with Salyut when that was intended mission)), total men in orbit: about 245 (some were launched on one flight, landed on another - I may have miscounted some in sorting those out).

          Note that Shuttle had 14 dead in its 123 flights (about 1.6%), Soyuz had four dead on its 99 flights (about 0.8%), but on a per flight basis, Shuttle had a failure rate of about 1.6%, Soyuz about 4% (or 10%), depending on definition of "failure". Neither Gemini nor Mercury suffered any failures (by either definition) but between them they put about 2% of the men into orbit that Soyuz and Shuttle combined did.

          Note further that Shuttle put into orbit more men than all other space programs combined. By a factor of three.

        • There were 2 "near misses" on Gemini VIII, when an attitude thruster stuck on and sent the spacecraft into a violent roil, while the spacecraft was out of radio contact between tracking stations. It is only because of the skill of the command pilot (a rookie named Neil Armstrong) that he and his crewmate Dave Scott weren't thrown off into deep space never to return.

          Scott Carpenter's Mercury flight could easily have gone horribly wrong, as well. Due to a malfunctioning autopilot, he depleted his maneuvering

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Consider the entire US space program, starting immediately after Sputnik. It reached space, orbit, then the Moon in 7 years (on schedule "by the end of the decade"). Then returned to the Moon many times. Then continued to operate a shuttle to orbit for decades.

        Factor in everything, and private enterprise hasn't achieved any of that. Even with that proven effort to start with.

        My conclusion is correct. However, factor in your Ron Paul .sig, and the US merely wasted taxpayer money on a Capricorn One movie stud

    • by vertinox (846076) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @11:30AM (#24456339)

      Do you know how many dead monkeys there are in space?

      A lot. [wikipedia.org]

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Do you know how many private corporation projects there are launching into space?

        None.

        What do those test subjects have to do with the superiority of government space programmes over private ones? Private efforts can kill all the monkeys they need, too. But they don't have to, since government already sacrificed the required amount. The private efforts still can't get there.

    • by Ig0r (154739)

      ... feeding on a much smaller pool of scientists and engineers ...

      Not quite; at its height before the Apollo 11 launch, number of people working directly on the Apollo program was over 400,000 (from Watkins, 2007).

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        No, I meant that in the 1960s there was a much smaller pool of scientists and engineers in the US/world from which to recruit than there is now.

        FWIW, that 400,000 people was overwhelmingly not scientists or engineers. Still necessary, but entirely besides my point.

  • Well, that sucks. Still, this is rocket science. Never mind, there's always next time.

    Incidentally: why does the RocketCam footage always cut off the instant anything goes wrong? That's happened on all the Falcon 1 flights so far. Even if the vehicle gets destroyed by Range Safety, you'd expect at least a few seconds between something going wrong and the decision to terminate being made. Instead, every time we apparently transition from flying (relatively) normally to no data. Given that RocketCams typica

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by rocketman768 (838734)
      I have no clue. Other than the slight roll oscillation someone else pointed out, I can't figure out what might have caused them to pull the video feed. I mean, the video cuts out at T+00:02:11 when just about nothing is supposed to be happening. Here is the timeline from the press kit available on www.spacex.com

      T+00:01:09 - Max Q
      T+00:02:20 - Switch to inertial guidance
      T+00:02:38 - MECO


      So, nothing interesting is going on at the time the video feed is cut, and stage separation doesn't even occur until
    • At a guess, their "live video" is on a 30 second delay, and the feed was killed by a technician whose sole responsibility during launch is to watch the true live video and push a big red button if he sees anything unusual.

      This seems like a reasonable precaution for any business or agency to take. An "anomoly" could possibly reveal proprietary information about the rocket's construction or programming. Stuff that SpaceX wouldn't want to show to its competitors. And of course any business needs to take prec

      • by tftp (111690)

        At a guess, their "live video" is on a 30 second delay

        I agree with your guess. I was watching both the video and the mission status (a blog) and the mission status was about 20-30 seconds ahead of the video, even though the blogger had to type the text. There was definitely some delay in the video.

  • by Protonk (599901) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @10:22AM (#24455847) Homepage

    ...this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry.

    No, it doesn't. It raises questions about SpaceX and their ability to produce a launch vehicle with an acceptable flight record. It raises questions about private willingness to accept failure on a design they think is fundamentally sound. It doesn't raise any more questions about the "future" of private spaceflight than when an Pegasus blows up or when SeaLaunch has a failure. The ENTIRE spaceflight communit owes a debt to and exists on a continuum of government influence. That doesn't make government the only entity that can test those waters. It just means that in the 20th century spaceflight was subsidized heavily, by and large. Since the entire industry was basically created by government action and most products either had only a government use or were dual use, even corporations who were ostensibly private relied on these pioneering steps made by governments. Even with that in mind, plenty of companies out there operate without government subsidy--and if you consider a government contract earned (and not a subsidy....but I don't), many do so. There are THOUSANDS of companies supporting private aerospace and private spaceflight, just not exclusively.

    We need to get out of the mindset of "only government can do X". Sometimes that is true. Sometimes governments are the only ones who can provide certain services (or more accurately, they are the only ones willing to). But in the case of spaceflight, this is not always true. In the 1960's, only government was willing to go to space because the cost was large and the payoff in dollar terms was small (and highly uncertain). By the 1970's cable companies and phone companies were paying to go into space. IF the space race had never happened, we would probably have built launch vehicles to enter low earth orbit anyway. It would have come later (maybe much later), but it would have happened.

    Failures don't represent a fundamental flaw in an industry. SpaceX had insurance, so this failure is not financially fatal for them--insurance is a good counter to the argument of "too much risk" in private spaceflight. If they fail, someone else will take up the mantle.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      "SpaceX had insurance, so this failure is not financially fatal for them--insurance is a good counter to the argument of "too much risk" in private spaceflight."

      Funny how you talk about the government being the only ones willing to do something when everyone else is unwilling because of the high cost vs low rewards then come out with this gem of thought: "It's ok, because the rocket and it's payload of multimillion dollar satellites were insured, MetSpace will just cover that with a minor increase monthly premiums."

      Insurance companies are not in the business of paying out money, they are in the business of getting something for nothing. Seeing that SpaceX already

  • It seemed like it was a technical success to me. The rocket may have failed in the end, but it didn't explode on the launch pad and it got to a substantial height. They are being pretty careful. They stopped the first launch at T-00:00, the rocket had already started its engine! The failure had to do with the stages not separating, which sounds to me like a fairly easy fix for next time.
  • I probably won't have the funds for whatever they will charge to take me into space, however if I did, I don't think I would trust their spaceline's maiden voyage. Maybe after their first year of operation I'd be tempted.

  • The last launch failed because of a stage separation problem too. It seems to me that stage separation is one of those things that they can't realistically test on the ground, so it's impossible to verify that a design will work reliably without actually launching the rocket. Maybe they should consider copying the stage separation mechanism of a successful rocket to avoid having this happen on their next launch.
  • Fools Commentary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StarsAreAlsoFire (738726) on Sunday August 03, 2008 @03:37PM (#24458245)

    "While the company vows to carry on, this certainly raises some questions about the likelihood of successful privatization of the Space industry."

    I cannot imagine that there exists on this world one person knowledgable in the field that would not have been hellishly impressed if SpaceX HAD succeded on their third try.

    Actually BEING knowledgable in the field I can state with some authority that the poster is not.

    Name one new launch vehicle that was succesful on its third launch. No derivatives allowed. And this isn't just a new vehicle, but a new everything. The whole stack, all newly designed.

    It took over two years to determine the correct process to START the space shuttle main engines. To START them. The engine was already designed and built.

    While unfortunate, this launch failure only proves that point which is already well known: engineering launch vehicles is damned hard.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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