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Space Technology

SpaceX Launch Failure Due To Timing Problem 244

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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  • Literature (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @08:46AM (#24508581)

    "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."

    Wow, it's like listening to Ahab rant about getting Moby-Dick. Hopefully this will have a better outcome.

  • Re:Hell-bent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rodney dill ( 631059 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @08:46AM (#24508589) Journal
    ...and Mr. Carlson thought turkeys could fly.
  • by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <[moc.ww] [ta] [j]> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @08:53AM (#24508653) Homepage

    And I fully expect them to be a major player in the future of commercial space travel.

    They've done some absolutely amazing things in the last couple of years on a budget that makes all the governments combined look pretty silly. They remind me of Reid Malenfant and his outfit (only a bit more realistic), and I don't think any issues that crop up during this test stage are going to slow them down for long.

    Maybe the 21st century will see some serious space exploration after all, instead of all those 'feel good' missions. $/kg to orbit is the only significant number for the next two decades or so, once there is enough construction capability up there to start hauling stuff inbound it should get interesting indeed.

  • by Stoutlimb ( 143245 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @08:59AM (#24508705)

    If NASA had that attitude, we never would have had a decade of stagnation after the first Shuttle accident. We'd have a moon colony by now. The problem is that the people at top too often see these kind of events as a signal to stop, where it really should be a sign that they're almost there. Remember when the Delta rocket flew and then fell over and burst into flames because of failed landing gear? LANDING GEAR! Something trivial to engineer (compared to the rest), and the project is shelved because of that failure. They should have kept going.

    Argh. Enough of my ranting, you people get the idea. I just wish the pointy haired bosses did.

  • Re:Wow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BigDaddyOttawa ( 948206 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:04AM (#24508751) Homepage
    Or a man who can drive your company in to the ground faster than a failed Falcon 1.
  • by Hozza ( 1073224 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:05AM (#24508757)

    I hate to say this, but the CEO has an attitude problem.

    He needs to do some reading up on the reviews of NASA after the two shuttle disasters. In both cases overconfidence, and management overruling/ignoring the views of engineers were found to be major factors.

    If he keeps running "hell-bent" towards his goal he's never going to reach it.

  • Re:Wow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:08AM (#24508771) Homepage
    Actually, it sounds like a man who is altogether too comfortable with profanity and who cares little for the problems faced by his team. Would you like to work for such a man?

    Hint: when he says "I'm hell-bent on making it work", he actually means "I will not be doing any of the actual work myself, but I'm hell-bent on pushing my workers". Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

  • Re:Wow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kipman725 ( 1248126 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:11AM (#24508793)
    yeah but he uses the profanity so well, why can't all press releases be like this.
  • by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <[moc.ww] [ta] [j]> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:13AM (#24508807) Homepage

    In spaceflight you're on a very long trajectory (pun intended) where lots of stuff has to be tested, alone and in combination. The only way to be 100% sure that everything works is to do an all-or-nothing launch, which due to its very nature is a public event. Trouble is to be expected when you combine that large a number of components. ALL space programs have had their failures, there is absolutely no reason to expect commercial space flight to be an exception.

    What you can expect is a slow decrease of these failures as more and more of the failure modes of the equipment are revealing themselves under different circumstances. This is even true for regular commercial aircraft today, and it is one of the major reasons for accident investigations.

    SpaceX has just had a mishap that would have been hard to test for on the pad (I'm not knowledgeable enough in the field to comment on the exact differences between testing on the pad and a launch, but I suspect there are still numerous differences, caused by atmospheric pressure, the effects of acceleration etc). This failure, when dealt with is not going to cause another launch to go bad, the real question is how many more such issues are lurking under the grass. It would be nice to know if this failure would have been preventable, 1.5 seconds doesn't sound like much but during the critical period of separation it's like an eternity.

  • Risk. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BitterOldGUy ( 1330491 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:14AM (#24508813)

    If NASA had that attitude, we never would have had a decade of stagnation after the first Shuttle accident. We'd have a moon colony by now. The problem is that the people at top too often see these kind of events as a signal to stop, where it really should be a sign that they're almost there. Remember when the Delta rocket flew and then fell over and burst into flames because of failed landing gear? LANDING GEAR! Something trivial to engineer (compared to the rest), and the project is shelved because of that failure. They should have kept going.

    Argh. Enough of my ranting, you people get the idea. I just wish the pointy haired bosses did.

    if Musk et al. has an accident where someone dies, I bet the FAA and others will be introducing some delays in his schedule. And I'm sure they'll some public outcry that he's flying over people and putting them in jeopardy - whether or not it's true.

    We've lost our sense of adventure, the acceptance of risk and, well, we've become a society that's so bent on being safe that we're afraid to take any warranted risks: we've become a society of pansies.

  • Re:Hell-bent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:19AM (#24508873)
    On a side note, nothing says "We're a serious business venture" quite like a CEO who rants and uses phrases like "fuck that" in interviews. Perhaps the rocket stages aren't the only thing that can't hold back when it counts.
  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by e2d2 ( 115622 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:21AM (#24508895)

    And what the fuck is wrong with profanity?

    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.

  • by apathy maybe ( 922212 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:22AM (#24508903) Homepage Journal

    Fuck off?

    Honestly, what attitude problem are you talking about?

    Swearing is never a problem and never indicates anything except that the person swears.

    Being "hell-bent" doesn't mean that he is going to overrule or ignore the engineers. Heck, with that attitude it would make sense to listen to the engineers. Because they are the actual ones who are going to have to do the work.

    So yeah, the only "attitude problem" I can see is the same that any CEO has, "my workers will do X". What army gave them the right to boss anyone else around? (Oh right, in this case the USA army; capitalism, requiring government since it was started.)

    (I've seen mixed results with the following sorts of quotes, but what the fuck: "I know I'll get modded down for this post, but ..." and "I've got karma to burn". Seriously, what's the point of having an opinion if you are too scared to post it?)

  • by Splab ( 574204 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:27AM (#24508947)

    Also the GP clearly haven't read the interview.

    The guy is smart, he listen to his engineers - in fact he refuses to elaborate on the problem until they are absolutely sure its what caused it. He might come off as someone a bit eager to get his product flying (and staying airborne), but comparing him to the fucktards that killed people in NASA launches where they where advised against it is just not right.

    From the interview:
    Musk: Patience is a virtue, and I'm learning patience. It's a tough lesson.

  • Not quite the pessimistic attitude you are showing here.

    SpaceX is building real hardware and "getting it up there". I would call that a bit better than a typical fireworks company.

    Besides, the problem with this last launch was more of things bumping into each other when they shouldn't have. It is also a situation where they made several changes to their rocket and were testing them all out at the same time. While the $10 million or so that it costs for them to send up a Falcon 1 rocket is expensive enough to not want to do repeated testing, it does make it more complicated to call something like this an "operational flight" when not all components have been tested in actual flight conditions.

    If they can get another rocket shipped to Kwajalein and launched in less than a month, that will speak far more about SpaceX's capabilities than can possibly be said about snarky remarks like being a fireworks company.

    They are certainly a whole lot closer to bringing down the cost of rocketry than companies like Rocketplane Kistler who haven't even really launched any hardware or even tested it in things like wind tunnels or a launch stand.

    All this said, SpaceX does need to deliver something to orbit real soon. It looks like the Malasyian government is getting quite nervous about being the next customer to send something up, given the track record for SpaceX to put things into orbit. They simply must get this next launch if they are to keep some of their customers.

  • Re:Hell-bent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Pimlott ( 16212 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:42AM (#24509165)

    This isn't your average widget company. People don't invest in companies like SpaceX just because of the profit potential, they do it because they desperately and fervently want to see us get our bald monkey asses off this rock. Having a CEO that unabashedly shares this passion is heartening to investors like those. If anything, I expect this "outburst" will help SpaceX more than harm them.

  • Re:Oblig. quote: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xalorous ( 883991 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @09:48AM (#24509229) Journal


    Real Genius shows us the kind of ingenuity that this country has all but lost. It's all about first to market, business plans and IPO's now.

    Anyway, Elon Musk and Richard Branson remind me of D. D. Harriman in R. A. Heinlein's Future History short stories, especially, "The Man Who Sold the Moon."

  • by luzr ( 896024 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:00AM (#24509393)
    Have you actually read the article?

    They have found the problem and they know how to fix it. It has nothing to do with previous failures.

    Sure, there might be another anomaly in the next launch. And then another. You never know, this is a rocket science after all...

    Anyway, what I really like about Spacex is exactly what you dislike. They are not aiming at single shot, they know this is hard. They have full assembly line of rockets, producing one after another.

    If they blow something, they just call "next" and try again until all quirks are resolved.

    This is the only possible and *right* attitude!

  • by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <[moc.ww] [ta] [j]> on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:08AM (#24509495) Homepage

    I'm sure all your multi-stage rocket designs flew picture perfect the first time out :)

    there is a reason why soviet tech is cheap, it's old and it's development has been paid for in the past (no comment on how it was paid for).

    So, any new development will be 'more costly' at face than old tech, but over time those costs should come down significantly. What is more surprising is that the difference between the old tech and the new one is as small as it is.

  • Re:Death (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ksempac ( 934247 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:28AM (#24509815)
    Good objection, but airlines are a little different from space travel for several reasons :
    - First, even though there have been a lot of airlines accidents, the numbers are pretty low compared to the number of flights per day. Notice also that the first accident was on 1922, 8 years after the first commercial flight. I think that space travel has a much higher accident/flight ratio. (I admit i don't have numbers to prove it : Wikipedia says that about 4% of people who went to space died inflight, but that includes early flights so it's not exactly the same thing.)
    - Second, plane flights were useful to people from the beginning : you could get from point A to point B in much less time than train or boat. Space travel has no such thing : it's a leisure activity. You won't miss a business opportunity if you don't try it.
  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deshkanna ( 730038 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @10:29AM (#24509833) Homepage

    This was the thing I liked the most in the article... Your whole mantra is "cheaper and more reliable." But so far you're zero for three, which is anything but cheap and reliable, and guys like's John Pike say the reason it has taken billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people to successfully launch rockets is physics, not some new design or economic model.

    Musk: Guys like John Pike have existed since the dawn of time, and if you listen to people like that then things will never get better, never change. It's a false point of view. Yes, we need to put some rockets into orbit. But the first order of business is to get rid of design errors, which we're doing, and once those are eliminated then you're dealing with repeatability, and people should judge what we're doing from the point of view of all the design issues we've ironed out through these F1 test flights.

  • by cmat ( 152027 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:00AM (#24510299)

    I think you confuse "deadline" with "goal".

  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:51AM (#24510951) Homepage

    Its not that there's not the potential for big returns. Quite to the contrary, if they actually get the bugs ironed out and hit their price target, they're going to make an utter mint. The problem is the risk. The private rocketry landscape is littered with the graves of equally ambitious companies. What makes SpaceX interesting is how much capital they have behind them and how far along they are. They actually stand a chance of pulling it off, and I think that's what makes them so interesting. But it's still a very risky investment, because rocketry is a very tough business in comparison to other investments people might throw their money into.

  • Incredible resolve (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caywen ( 942955 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @11:52AM (#24510963)
    I think it shows the kind of incredible resolve it takes to do rocket science. I think it's the same resolve the Apollo program had, and I think it's infectious. It's one thing to be balls to the wall but have no demonstrative ability to execute, but remember that Flight 2 actually did make it up there. And that NASA and the US Government have enough confidence in their ability to give them major contracts. For those invoking the Ahab thing, I just don't see that. 5-1 odds they nail it in Flight 4.
  • Re:Hell-bent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @01:02PM (#24511919) Journal
    Hmmm. I am guessing that you do not know too many CEOs of medium companies, let along major companies. Most have little scruples and cuss like a sailor or dick cheney.
  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday August 07, 2008 @02:13PM (#24513133) Homepage

    Yes. Having an actual craft that works enough to get high enough into the air to fail in its second stage is far along.

    This. Is. Rocket. Science.

    I don't know why it's so hard for people to understand this.

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982