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Space Technology

SpaceX Launch Failure Due To Timing Problem 244

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the ironically-he's-an-atheist dept.
FleaPlus writes "Private orbital spaceflight company SpaceX recently announced that last weekend's Falcon 1 rocket launch failure was caused by a collision between the first and second stage of their rocket. This was due to a timing problem, when their brand-new engine design produced residual thrust for 1.5 seconds longer than expected; they're currently working to fix the problem and launch again, perhaps as early as next month. In a recent interview with Wired, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk remarked on their efforts: "Optimism, pessimism, f-ck that; we're going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I'm hell-bent on making it work.""
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SpaceX Launch Failure Due To Timing Problem

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  • by Seraph787 (859123) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @08:49AM (#24508611) Homepage
    "Optimism, pessimism, f-ck that; we're going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I'm hell-bent on making it work." I can't find a reference to that quote in the wired article or on google.
  • by damburger (981828) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:54AM (#24509303)

    To be blunt, a serious outfit would know how long their damn engine burns for.

    The reason they've done everything on such a small budget is because they cut through the red tape that holds government agencies back. Unfortunately, some of that red tape was obviously important for quality control.

    In any case, they aren't doing that well at reducing cost - Falcon 9 for instance is 5 million dollars per flight more expensive than Proton (albeit it with a slightly bigger capacity) and Proton has the longest and best record of any currently operating heavy lifter. People with 20+ tonne satellites will be designing them for current heavy launchers like Proton so the extra payload capacity won't be an issue for quite a while, leaving Falcon 9 looking a bit mediocre even if it does ever fly.

    So, for all Musk's bluster, your lean mean private enterprise doesn't seem to have much of an edge over decades old Soviet engineering.

  • by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:22AM (#24509715)
    It was the Delta Clipper or DC-X. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DC-XA [wikipedia.org]

    I remember seeing video of one of the test flights and being absolutely pole-axed. "It just fucking took off vertically, hovered cross-range and LANDED again!?!"

    Apparently it wasn't really the crash that ended the program, it had already had funding pulled before that flight. Still, it was a very Buck Rogers kind of vehicle.
  • by damburger (981828) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:29AM (#24509839)

    My first multi-stage was a lawn dart (coincidentally, it failed to stage too, but I damn well knew how long the first stage would burn for. It said so on the engine packet...) my second one flew perfectly. Sure, Musks are bigger but he has a lot more money than me.

    The launch market won't care for novelty though - 20 tonne satellites are Serious Business and people sending them up are likely to be quite cautious about embracing a potty-mouthed newcomer in favour of the old Russian stalwart. If nobody is buying his launcher how can he bring the price down?

  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:57AM (#24510229)

    They are trying to shoot people into space for God's sake and that takes passion. This sometimes manifests itself in profanity.

    Personally I like this attitude much more than the life-less suit who can't relate to the passionate. I prefer Larry Ellison's "I'm gonna kick the fucking door down and take that shit!" to Bill Gates "well, we better see if we can sneak in the back and steal everything". It's much more honest. Both have the same goal, but one isn't delusional about it.

    Hell, I'll even settle for Gates' "sneak in the back and steal everything". Even that would be honest.

    But back to the matter at hand. I'll take a "Fuck that. We're going to make it work" in a press release any day, over the mealy-mouthed "We have faith that our current challenge can be overcome" corporatespeak that currently plagues press releases.

    The second stage didn't encounter a challenge, it encountered the first stage, and then blew the fuck up. That's not a surmountable challenge, or even an issue, it's a fixable bug or solvable problem.

    If people said what they meant, and meant what they said, there'd be a lot less failure in the business world.

    Management needs someone who can do for businesspeak what Edward Tufte did for the visual presentation of information. It's not just the PowerPoint that kills astronauts, it's the use of phrases like "the stresses imposed by the frozen deposit upon the RCC were in excess of design parameters" as opposed to "Are you fucking nuts? We never tested for that shit, so none of us has any fucking clue how bad the damage is until someone gets the fuck out there and actually looks at it!" (Challenger), and "The performance of the O-ring under this thermal profile is not guaranteed, but is likely to be adequate" over "Well, I'd bet $50 that nobody dies this time, but I sure as fuck wouldn't want to be flying on it. If you really wanna get the teacher in space in time for the State of the Union speech, it's your call, boss. Don't fuckin' blame me if you kill 7 people." (Columbia).

  • by quanticle (843097) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @01:11PM (#24512053) Homepage

    While I agree that a certain amount of enthusiasm is necessary for a grand undertaking such as this, it is entirely too easy for a manager to be too enthusiastic, ignoring or minimizing serious issues for the sake of maintaining forward progress.

    James R. Chiles, in his book Inviting Disaster spends an entire chapter ("Doubtless") on this. He shows time and again how overconfident managers willingly blinded themselves to serious flaws in their programs, and were then surprised when those same flaws came to endanger human life and property.

    If I was an investor in SpaceX, I would be asking some very hard questions right now. I would certainly not be accepting Musk's characterization of this issue as a "quirk" or "small problem". SpaceX has had three real launches, in addition to innumerable hours of simulator and modeling time. Why was a serious issue like this not caught earlier? What other mission ending issues are there with the rocket? How confident are the working engineers' answers to the above two questions?

    SpaceX is not NASA. They don't have the luxury of an unlimited budget and governmental mandate. As such, their margin for error is correspondingly slimmer, and the board's tolerance for daredevilry should be correspondingly lower.

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