Thursday, August 7, 2008

SpaceX Failure Aftermath

More news has come out about the failure of SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket that I talked about a few days ago.

First of all, the exact cause of the failure has been pinned down (and pretty quickly, I might add). The first stage went off without a hitch. However, after the rocket ceased igniting, there was residual pressure left in its cooling channels that continued to give the rocket a small amount of thrust. SpaceX was aware that this would happen. However, it lasted longer than was predicted; long enough to still be occurring during stage separation. Stage separation itself went off without a hitch; the two stages disconnected from each other perfectly. However, because of the residual thrust in the first stage's rocket, the two stages did not physically separate and this caused the failure.

This is actually a fairly minor problem (note: minor problems in space = spectacular destruction). It didn't occur with the last flight because they were still using the old Merlin 1A engine, and this problem is unique to the Merlin 1C engine. And furthermore, it wasn't discovered in advance because the pressure at which the rocket was tested was almost the same as the residual pressure in the cooling channels. The problem will be fixed with a simple timing adjustment on the stage separation for next launch. Speaking of the next launch, SpaceX announced that this could happen as soon as next month. I certainly hope they give us a bit more advance notification than last time; I'd really like to watch this one.

And how can SpaceX keep operating despite three failures, the loss of three satellites, and no successful launches? Well, SpaceX also announced that they have received $20 million in investments from a technology venture capital firm named Founder's Fund. And a good thing too; they'd be really hurting hurting otherwise.

I'll end this post with an awesome picture of Launch 3 (credit SpaceX), along with some amusing words from Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO.

"Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we're going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I'm hell-bent on making it work."

Progress: 4.03%  Flight Time: 0:06:05

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