Damaged Falcon 9 first stage returns to port

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The remains of the damaged Falcon 9 first stage that tipped over during its barge landing last week returned to port this past weekend.

Video and images of it can be seen at the link, all of which suggest that there is a slight chance the engines might be salvageable. Regardless, SpaceX once again has valuable used space hardware that no one else has ever had which it can study to improve its future rocket designs.


  • geoffc

    At some levels, SpaceX has something very unique, collision tested engines! They now have the gamut. “Easy” recovery (CRS-8, OG2). Hard recovery (JCSat, Thaicomm8) and several different crashed stages.

    They are getting lots of data points for their recovery and reuse program. So much fun to watch!

  • Alex

    “Damaged stage” sounds a bit strange. The stage is destroyed and burst into pieces. I would not bet that much of engines can be reused.

  • Edward

    “Damaged stage” sounds strange because engineers tend to not dramatize. When a Space Shuttle explodes, the engineer calls it a “major malfunction,” but when the Hindenburg explodes, the radio announcer says, “Oh, the humanity!”

    In this case, the rocket was damaged beyond economical repair — yet another phrase that engineers use to mean “total loss.”

    Whether any of the engines survived well enough to be reused is a good question. When propeller airplanes belly-land with their engines running, the propellers strike the ground and it is generally thought that the engine has been damaged beyond economical repair. Since some or all of the Falcon 9’s engines may not have struck the ground, perhaps they and their turbines have not been damaged beyond economical repair. However, the turbines’ bearings may have been damaged too much for future high-speed use, as bearings do not like these kinds of shock events.

    We will have to see what SpaceX says about the future use or repair of these engines.

  • Alex

    Eward: The automatic landing of the F9’s first stage (coming from space at hypersonic velocity) is a stunning major technical achievement, possible by reducing the structural weight of the stage to most extent (which makes it not very robust and sensitive to overload) and by risking to run the tanks empty at last seconds (there literally no propellant reserves available). Then there are a significant heat load by at atmospheric reentry and the impingement of the engines plume itself at the vehicle base.

    I feel that the real lessons (to be taken by SpaceX) about reusability have just started and it will need some years to reach final conclusion about financial advantages of the method. I am convinced that also SpaceX does not know at present the final result.

  • Edward

    Alex wrote: “I feel that the real lessons (to be taken by SpaceX) about reusability have just started and it will need some years to reach final conclusion about financial advantages of the method. I am convinced that also SpaceX does not know at present the final result.”

    These are most definitely true. Unlike Blue Origin, which has already relaunched its rocket, the Falcon 9 has yet to actually be reused, so the real life behavior of the reused hardware has yet to be seen. Blue Origin is already studying, learning, and understanding the little glitches, that are not apparent to us, during the successful launches of their reused vehicle. Falcon 9 has not yet given SpaceX that kind of opportunity.

    Now is an excellent time for SpaceX to test the limits of the vehicles, as they are still making more and are not yet committed to reusing them in earnest. As reuse becomes standard operating procedure, each vehicle will become more valuable intact, on landing, than they are now. They will learn where the limits are and may learn how to expand the limits, making future landings more likely to succeed.

    Meanwhile, they need to examine returning rockets to find what wears faster than expected, and they need to find the techniques and modifications that minimize the chances of landing failures, even when the launch is at marginal conditions. Eventually, they will work out modifications that will minimize or ease refurbishments between launches.

    This latest failed landing is going to give them another important lesson. They need to understand their high velocity landings and the techniques used so that they can figure out how to be more successful on future launches and landings.

    Right now after a failure, they can afford to have an attitude of “oh, well, we didn’t think it would survive landing anyway,” but once they need each vehicle for later launches, the attitude of a failed landing will be closer to, “drat, there go the profits.”

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