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Falcon 9 explodes two minutes into launch

Today’s Falcon 9 rocket launch of a Dragon freighter to ISS ended in failure slightly past 2 minutes after lift-off when the upper stage exploded.

My first thought about this failure is the supply problems it causes at ISS. The Progress failure in April strained the supply lines, making this Dragon flight somewhat critical.

In a presentation to a committee of the NASA Advisory Council here April 9, NASA officials said that food supplies on the ISS would reach a threshold called “reserve level” on July 24, and go to zero by Sept. 5. That assumed that the station received no more supplies beyond a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission launched to the station in April.

The other major limiting consumable is a solid waste container known by the Russian acronym KTO. Without additional cargo missions beyond the Dragon flight, KTO supplies would reach the reserve level July 20 and be exhausted on Sept. 2. Other consumables, including water, would not reach reserve levels until later in the year or early 2016.

In other words, some of the station’s toilets are going to begin to overflow without more supplies. It is possible however that this problem will be alleviated by the planned July 3 launch of the next Progress, especially since NASA officials claimed just prior to the launch failure today that ISS had enough supplies to last through October.

As for the launch failure, I expect that SpaceX will quickly pinpoint the problem and schedule another launch. I have embedded video of the launch below the fold. Prior to the explosion of the first stage all looks completely normal. In fact, immediately before the failure the announcer notes this fact, making what happens next especially shocking.

Update: I have corrected the first paragraph, correcting it from “first stage” to “upper stage.”

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  • t-dub

    I was watching the launch live when it happened. Thank goodness it was an unmanned flight. When all that weird exhaust started coming off the upper stage I thought to myself “that doesn’t look right” and then the rocket disintegrated. I know Elon Musk and SpaceX will come back strong from this but what a disappointment. I was really hoping they were going to recover the first stage today.

  • t-dub

    Robert, here is a slow motion video of the Falcon 9 explosion. My eyes see something interesting starting at about 33 or 34 seconds on the video. You can see a definite shadow, the shape of the Dragon capsule, coming away from the rocket. I grabbed a screen shot and highlighted this at the 38 second mark, see my link below. SpaceX said they continued to receive telemetry from the capsule after the event and I think this is what we are seeing here. Amazing.

    Slo motion video:

    My highlighted still picture:

  • Nice catch!

    If this is so, then it is a shame that Dragon capsule did not have the SuperDraco thrusters. They could have demonstrated its launch abort capabilities during a real failure. Even so, if they can demonstrate that the Dragon separated and was intact after the explosion they will once again confirm the viability of that engineering.

    More important right now, however, is finding out what caused the first stage failure.

  • Don

    I think we sometimes forget that there are many things that could possibly go wrong with every launch of these rockets.

    Musk has been tweeting out a little preliminary info about an “overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank”. Direct quote.

  • pzatchok

    I feel bad about this but it was a pretty explosion though.

  • Alexey

    I’m wonder if somebody can help Russians to check on safety and rocket equipment functionality ahead of Progress launch. It’s not only Space-X, look like Russians also are not the best rocket scientists. I guess US help is impossible these days.

  • Edward

    The slow motion video shows that something went wrong above the first stage. It looked like the first stage continued normal propulsion for seven seconds after the event.

    The results of the investigation will be good to learn.

  • D.K. Williams

    Seems to me cheaper to attach a tiny rocket to each poop bucket, fire it in such manner as to slow it below orbital velocity, and let nature take its course ( double pun intended).

  • Mike Nelson

    What is peculiar is that it is the head of the rocket (at or near Dragon) that appears to be the point of failure, not the thrusting 1st stage which amazingly soldiers on for a number of seconds. It will be very interesting to learn what failed.

    Strange too is that everything essentially vaporized (other than the noted piece of debris in the still) leaving NOTHING after the blast. Perhaps they pulled off another SpaceX
    first and opened a wormhole ; )

  • It is very likely that the Air Force range control, upon seeing that the rocket had failed, acted to destroy it to prevent it from flying out of control. This might explain the sudden final explosion that appeared to destroy everything.

    Update: in reviewing yesterday’s press conference, I have learned that the Air Force probably did not destroy the rocket. Thus, the way it exploded becomes important to the investigation.

  • David M. Cook

    Just goes to show you that Murphy is always looking for an opening! While everyone was focused on the first stage & it’s recovery he was riding in the upper stage & working his gremlins overtime!

    I just wish the development of this system was started sooner, before the ISS really needed it. Too bad the ULA & other dinospace players were not even trying until Musk began SpaceX.

    Of course, Mr. Musk will find out the cause & get it fixed WAY SOONER than NASA or anyone else would have. After all, startups need to be quick and nimble to steal away the meat from the larger critters!

  • Cotour


    Tin hat time NASA nerds, what are these things and why did NASA cut the feed / have “technical difficulties” when they appeared?

  • frank

    SpaceX’s CRS-7 page says “Telemetry indicates first stage flight was nominal and that Dragon remained healthy for some period of time following separation.”

    The good news from this is that it raises the possibility that thrusters on a manned capsule could have removed the capsule from harm’s way in future scenario like this.

  • David M. Cook

    Clearly, it’s a Roton Rotary Rocket!

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