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Space Technology

SpaceX Launch Not So Perfect After All 272

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-have-a-problem dept.
First time accepted submitter drichan writes "Those of us who watched the live feed of last night's Falcon 9 launch could be forgiven for assuming that everything went according to plan. All the reports that came through over the audio were heavy on the word "nominal," and the craft successfully entered an orbit that has it on schedule to dock with the International Space Station on Wednesday. But over night, SpaceX released a slow-motion video of what they're calling an 'anomaly.'"
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SpaceX Launch Not So Perfect After All

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  • Whats the problem? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ZiakII (829432) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:10PM (#41589723)
    The Falcon 9, as its name implies, has nine engines, and is designed to go to orbit if one of them fails. On-board computers will detect engine failure, cut the fuel supply, and then distribute the unused propellant to the remaining engines, allowing them to burn longer. This seems to be the case where that was required, and the computers came through. The engines are also built with protection to limit the damage in cases where a neighboring engine explodes, which appears to be the case here.

    Sounds like it did exactly what it was supposed to do.
  • Not all the info (Score:5, Informative)

    by Antipater (2053064) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:13PM (#41589765)
    TFA only tells half the story. MSNBC [nbcnews.com] has more. Dragon is fine, but it's possible that the launch's secondary objective, which was to put the first of an 18-satellite telecom array into a tricky high-inclination orbit, went a little screwy as well, and the sat isn't in the proper orbit at the moment. Details are still being dug out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:27PM (#41589903)

    As the update to the article from SpaceX points out - the engine didn't blow.

    Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event.

    As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission.

    Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission.

  • Re:Not all the info (Score:3, Informative)

    by Antipater (2053064) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:29PM (#41589927)

    Dragon is fine, but...

    Did you miss that part of my post? The telecom satellite is separate from the resupply mission.

  • by afidel (530433) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:34PM (#41589977)

    It wasn't an engine explosion, the protective fairing around the engine shattered when the engine cutoff caused a major change in pressure. SpaceX said that they continued to receive telemetry data from the engine which means it did not explode, and in fact was physically intact though not functioning correctly.

  • by jamstar7 (694492) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:41PM (#41590063)

    As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission.

    IIRC, there was no way to recompute a Saturn 5 flight profile on the fly. Remember, kids, that was back in the days when we hunted dinosaurs from the backs of our '57 Chevys. Kudos to SpaceX for having enough out of the box thinking to have the needed software routines in the can already and ready to go. Falcon 9 is more than just another Big Dumb Booster, AAMOF, from everything I'm reading and seeing of its operation, it's pretty goddamned smart. Remember the test flight to the ISS? The first launch attempt, the onboard computers detected a glitch that might have taken out the bird and shut down and aborted the launch right at T -0, even after the humans tapped the buttons authorising the computers to do the launch. Like I say, some serious onboard smarts programmed by some seriously smart people.

  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:51PM (#41590199)

    This is very true, but if you've ever worked in aerospace, you surely know about "tribal knowledge."

    SpaceX would have started with a clean slate in that department, and without NASA's tribal knowledge... let's just say that I am very pleased with their performance.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:52PM (#41590213) Homepage Journal

    No, the engine did not explode. The fairing around the nozzle was crush by the sudden loss of interior pressure when the engine shut down -- the external pressure was then much higher than the nozzle's interior pressure (no more rocket exhaust) and it got crushed and fell away, harming nothing. The engine is still there, intact, and it did, in fact, just turn off.

  • Re:An (Score:5, Informative)

    by guruevi (827432) <evi.smokingcube@be> on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:53PM (#41590243) Homepage

    I don't think you know how these so-called fixed-price bids work for governments. They're not fixed at all as the contract or language implies. They are just starting points for negotiations on more contracts as the scopes and costs change on both ends of the contract.

    Basically a government fixed-price request is a very vague description of an idea. The fixed-price bid is a very vague description of a project and associated budget. Whether or not the budget then balloons to eclipse the specified price is irrelevant to the bureaucracy on either side.

  • by astrodoom (1396409) on Monday October 08, 2012 @04:57PM (#41590285)
    Actually, according to SpaceX engineers, it did not explode as they were able to continue to communicate with it. The current theory is the outer covering blew off because of the change in pressure.

    From TFA: "We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event."
  • by 0123456 (636235) on Monday October 08, 2012 @05:10PM (#41590403)

    News to me. Details anyone?

    Apollo 6 lost two engines and, AFAIR, suffered partial breakup of the SLA panels covering the lunar module due to pogo.
    Apollo 13 lost one engine, which was fortunate because pogo had grown so bad that the Saturn V was on the verge of structural failure. If the engine hadn't failed, they'd have been parachuting back to Earth soon after.

  • Re:An (Score:4, Informative)

    by the gnat (153162) on Monday October 08, 2012 @06:13PM (#41591017)

    That's not consistent with what I've read about this subject. For instance: [nss.org]

    ...in some quarters outright disbelief remains regarding the launch prices actually posted on the SpaceX website for the Falcon Heavy. No other company has posted fixed launch prices on the Internet — only SpaceX. The actual taxpayer cost of US government launches can only be guessed by calculating from the cost-plus contract costs, which are usually for multiple launches from the same customer. If SpaceX does multiple launches, the posted price would be reduced depending on the number of launches.

    Or this: [www.good.is]

    Rather than the traditional cost-plus model, in which companies are reimbursed the cost of a project plus an additional amount that guarantees them a profit, SpaceX and Orbital are working under newly established Space Act Agreements, in which NASA pays increments of a fixed price once the companies accomplish previously agreed upon milestones.

    To reiterate, this is no guarantee that it will actually work better (and not just more cheaply) than the old system. For it to really be a success there needs to be a competitive market, a sustainable business model, and a lack of heavily subsidized competition from the Chinese. But I really hope it does succeed.

  • by quasius (1075773) on Monday October 08, 2012 @06:34PM (#41591187)
    According to wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_9 [wikipedia.org] ), the Falcon 9 can deliver 29k lbs to LEO.
  • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:04PM (#41591869)
    Actually there was nothing preventing the Orbcom sat from being inserted into the proper orbit but for rules by NASA and their ISS partners (Russians) that told them that they were not allowed to reignite the second stage [orbcomm.com] because of the malfunction in the first stage.
  • by johnny cashed (590023) on Monday October 08, 2012 @08:29PM (#41592079) Homepage
    None of the Saturn series rockets were "dumb". The booster had its own guidance system independent of the spacecraft's guidance system.

    For further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_Launch_Vehicle_Digital_Computer [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:An (Score:3, Informative)

    by kellymcdonald78 (2654789) on Monday October 08, 2012 @10:59PM (#41593009)
    To clairfy the contracts that SpaceX and Orbital are operating under for station resupply are neither "cost-plus" nor "fixed price" contracts, they are "fee for service" contracts. NASA pays for certain miletones successfully achieved and cargo delivered to the station. NASA doesn't buy Falcon 9's or Dragons (the Dragon remains the property of SpaceX) they are buying the service (just as they buy FedEx and Airline tickets)

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