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An update on the Falcon 9 engine problems.

An update on the Falcon 9 engine problems.

Based on SpaceX’s press release, the rocket functioned as designed to overcome the engine failure. Nonetheless, it behooves them to find out why that engine shut down prematurely.

More worrisome for the company is the failure the Falcon 9 rocket to place in its proper orbit a secondary payload, an Orbcomm communications satellite. The satellite ended up in too low an orbit, probably because of the engine failure during launch. Orbcomm has a contract with SpaceX to launch a whole series of these satellites. This failure now, right at the get-go, won’t do them much good in terms of public relations.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Joe

    There are several things “worrisome” for Space X. One of which you note – the failure to properly launch the Orbcomm communications satellite.

    Additionally the engine anomaly was not a controlled shut down – If you watch the slow motion video there is a large flare (something blowing up) followed by large chunks of something falling off the rocket. The engine did not just “shut down prematurely”.

    Also if NASA (meaning the American Tax Payer) paid the full ($133 Million?) cost of the launch and Space X received a fee for launching the Orbcomm communications satellite who gets that additional money. I would think a true libertarian like yourself would want to know.

  • JohnHunt

    It wasn’t an engine explosion, it was an…engine pressure release! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

  • Steve C

    So the engine went FOOF instead of BOOM. Sounds like when you slam the throttle closed on a V8 and it backfires thru the carb. When you crash-stop something with fast moving parts and fluids, the force is going to go somewhere, hence the blow-off panels. The main point is an engine failed and the rocket completed it’s primary mission. From my reading of the article, it was restrictions of the ISS not a limitation of the rocket that prevented the secondary payload from being properly inserted. Frustrating Murphy is a sign of good design. Going to have to look at what happened to the failed engine, again standard engineering practice

  • Joe

    Absoluelty, “Move along folks, nothing to see here.”

  • Wrong again Joe. Those large chunks weren’t the engine. The engine did shut down and telemetry continued.

    NASA did not pay for the full cost of the flight. They paid a contract obligation that allows SpaceX to have secondary payloads. The only reason the secondary payload didn’t make it’s correct orbit is that NASA prevented it. SpaceX could have done it fine.

    A true libertarian doesn’t carry that axe to grind against SpaceX.

    This is a great day, proving engine out capability is not just coming from marketing.

  • Mike B

    I seem to recall they had a problem with the Merlin after testing for the first Dragon launch.

  • Chris Kirkendall

    This probably will hurt SpaceX’s image just a bit – being the first in a series of launches for this Co. But they seem like a dedicated group & I expect they’ll work long & hard to find & fix the problem. If the next couple of launches come off without a hitch, they may find themselves back in everyone’s good graces. I still feel they’ve done remarkable things in a relatively short time – many people didn’t believe they’d get this far this fast. I wish them luck – we’re going to need successes from all the major players in order to keep the competition level high – healthy competition is one of the best ways to ensure the end product is good for the customer…

  • Joe

    Yes they did. From the linked article:

    “It is worth noting that this is not the first time Falcon 9 has experienced an engine anomaly. During a Dec. 8, 2010 launch that orbited a Dragon qualification unit for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, one of the rocket’s engines experienced an “oxygen-rich shutdown,” according to Ken Bowersox, a retired NASA astronaut and former SpaceX vice president for astronaut safety and mission assurance. Bowersox revealed the anomaly in a September 2011 interview with Space News shortly before leaving the company.

    Falcon 9 also suffered an anomaly during its inaugural flight June 4, 2010, though flight data from the mission was never made public. The rocket appears to have experienced a slight roll at liftoff, visible in a video of the launch. And in a post-launch interview I did for Space News, SpaceX founder, CEO and CTO Elon Musk said he was surprised by a pronounced roll that occurred following the rocket’s upper stage firing.
    “We didn’t expect the roll,” Musk said, adding that it did not affect the payload’s insertion vector and had no adverse impact on the mission.

    It is also worth noting that next year SpaceX plans to fly an upgrade to the Falcon 9 rocket that will effectively replace the existing launch vehicle. They’ve cleverly dubbed it Falcon 9 v1.1, a name that suggests only minor modifications to the current version. But the upgrade will feature a new engine — the Merlin 1D — to be arranged in an octagonal, rather than the current tic-tac-toe configuration. The rocket will also be longer, to accommodate stretched fuel tanks, and incorporate a wider payload fairing, meaning v1.1 will bear little resemblance to the Falcon 9 of today.”

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