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Do you have video of the Falcon 9 explosion? SpaceX needs it!

In a series of tweets today Elon Musk put out a call for any videos anyone might have of last week’s Falcon 9 launchpad explosion.

“Still working on the Falcon fireball investigation. Turning out to be the most difficult and complex failure we have ever had in 14 years,” Musk wrote. “Important to note that this happened during a routine filling operation. Engines were not on, and there was no apparent heat source. Particularly trying to understand the quieter bang sound a few seconds before the fireball goes off. May come from rocket or something else,” he said.

Musk also answered questions and responded to comments from the public. When Twitter user @ashwin7002 tweeted at Musk that “there are some videos on YouTube claiming something hit the rocket. Any reality there?” Musk replied, “We have not ruled that out.”

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Cotour

    If you look at this video at the 10 / 11 second time frame you can see something moving from right to left at high speed from the top of the right hand tower across to the left just above the top of the rocket as it explodes. It is undeniably there, what it is I do not know. It certainly does not look like a giant bug or bird, moving way, way too fast.

    Very interesting.

  • Frank

    Apparent motion is related to distance from the viewer. A bug at 1ft travels the same distance across the image as a high speed projectile does close to the rocket.

    From Musk’s request for 3party images, it sounds like they had few cameras running. I’ll bet that changes in the future.

  • wayne

    Cotour– I make no claims (at all) of special-knowledge, but that camera is a long way away and there’s no perspective.
    And the resolution is just not high enough to distinguish where objects actually are (or what they are) between the camera and the pad.

    I would speculate however– if Musk is requesting video from observers, they probably didn’t have all their technical-camera’s running and/or lack views of the fueling, specifically.

    It is, just good common-sense, not to rule anything out. Hopefully they will figure this out sooner rather than later.

    Take a look at the same clip, that was slowed down to 1/250th speed, you’ll see all sorts of stuff in the atmosphere.

  • Localfluff

    Nothing is hitting the launcher. The explosion originates where the upper stage is being fueled. The mentally sick conspiracy “theorists” don’t need to bother with their fantasies.

  • t-dub

    Looked like a bird to me . . .

  • Cotour

    Here is the video slowed down X 250 :

    From my observation it appears that the object is at the height of the rocket and appears to be moving between the towers as it passes over the rocket. If you stop the video at :37 seconds just after the object moves over the rocket and is to the left of it you can see what appears to be a reflection coming off of it. To me it does not appear to be a bird.

    Pretty interesting.

  • Edward

    Whatever it is, it does not reach the rocket until after the fireball, appears above the rocket, and it continues flying past the rocket. Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with the accident. At best, this is just a distraction. The great speed strongly suggests that it is between the camera and the rocket.

    The reflection is almost certainly the same as the reflection that can be seen on the tank in the right side of the frame. Bright light reflects off of objects, whether they are bare metal, painted metal, bug exoskeletons, or bird feathers.

  • t-dub

    Cotour . . . already saw the video but I watched it, yet again, just for you.

    It is obviously a bird. You can obviously see the pulsing as the wings are in flight.

    Its a bird dude.

  • wayne

    Thanks for that explanation on apparent motion. And as you say, if they didn’t have ‘enough’ camera’s running or aimed at the fueling process, they will in the future.

    I’ve watched that 1/250 speed clip quite a bit myself. I just don’t think there’s enough resolution in it, to help us out.
    The original video file however, may very well have enough resolution to help out SpaceX to some degree, but we have to remember– we are not seeing the same video file, as they are. And when it was uploaded to YouTube, it was compressed into .mp4 video format, and then viewed on our computer screens. (two levels of resolution removed from whatever the file was originally.)
    And then there’s the issue of what “frame-rate” that camera was capturing in real-time. The 1/250 speed clip is just the original clip slowed down after-the-fact, it wasn’t digitally recorded at that high of a frame-rate.
    One last issue– digital video recording is completely unlike film recording.
    -In film, there are distinct separate physical frames (the frames per second rate) which capture complete images.
    -In digital video, the signal is processed with an in-the-camera Video Codec that breaks up the image into (this is crudely described by me) moving and non-moving elements of the picture (foreground, background and the “subject”) , the algorithm is concentrating on high-motion frames and allots more data to those frames, compared with low-motion scenes, which generally don’t change a lot frame-to-frame and those are assigned low data rates. (and there’s “lossy” and “loss-less” methods to capture video, the lossy versions can’t be de-compressed back into to its native resolution, whereas loss-less compression can be de-compressed back to its original value.)
    If we are really lucky– they were running in RAW capture mode, but those files are HUGE.
    [it would be something like 25+ MB’s/second, which is compressed down to 10-15 MB’s/sec by the CODEC in the camera, and then later YouTube compressed the file even more.
    It’s not running fast enough to capture the detonations/explosions as they evolved in real-time. It may be running at 30 or even 60 fps, but that is just not fast-enough to capture chemical detonations/explosions.

    This is not directly comparable (at all), but gives a sense of the amount of data that can be captured at very high frame rates. (video or film)
    — a HD transfer of 16mm technical-camera film running at 500 frames per second. (but… compressed by YouTube and displayed on your computer monitor.)

    Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch Technical-Camera E-8

    (I’m not going down the sabotage route at this juncture. A more interesting question might possibly be– just what would our government do, if it was sabotage, issue a strongly worded letter?)

  • D K Rögnvald Williams

    My guess is that a static discharge sparked the conflagration. I’m sure there are precautions taken against this, but freak occurrences do happen. The flying object could be coincidental, or might have affected the electric field in some manner, if it is metallic. Some sort of drone? Sabotage?

  • Cotour

    t- Dub:

    The video seems to place the “bird” at the height just above the rocket and is moving from right to left between and BEHIND the surrounding towers at what appears to be the correct height and at Mach 3 (?).

    (If you watch the object as it passes over the rocket and then passes just past the left most tower you can see that it does appear to be moving behind the surrounding tower, at the proper height)

    The object appears to pass behind the towers at the height of the rocket and not in front of it and closer which would make it all appear to be an optical illusion.

    It honestly does not look like any bird I know of, I have no idea what it is (if I am not hallucinating)

    What is the Zmans interpretation? Or, even better, Dick Eagleston?

  • Cotour: My interpretation is simple: These youtube videos do not have the resolution for any reasonable speculation, and thus I’m not speculating.

  • Cotour

    Fair enough, at what point will high resolution video be available do you think?

    And if it is not made available, what will that say?

  • Cotour: It will not mean much to me if the high resolution images never become available. SpaceX would have many private proprietary reasons for not providing these visuals, all of which would nothing to do with a cover up, which is what I suspect you are already implying.

    There are too many other players in this game and too much big money at stake. There will not be a cover up. They have to figure out what went wrong, especially because the incident itself is somewhat unprecedented, and make that information available as widely as possible.

  • Cotour

    Yes, no one (either owner or insurance company) is going to want to plant their $400 million dollar satellite on top of their rocket if its not comprehensively understood and rationally explained.

  • Edward

    Cotour wrote: “The video seems to place the “bird” at the height just above the rocket and is moving from right to left between and BEHIND the surrounding towers at what appears to be the correct height and at Mach 3 (?).”

    There is no frame that suggests that the bird flew behind the towers. Also, if it were flying behind the towers, it was not on a course to attack the rocket, as the towers surround the pad. Also, if it is behind the towers, then it is even higher in the sky than the top of the rocket.

    I agree with t-dub. It looks like its wings flap, and I do not know of any ornithopter attack-aircraft in the world. Unless it is space aliens that attack at an angle, rather than straight on, then I think you need to seriously consider an alternate hypothesis, such as D K Rögnvald Williams’s static discharge idea. I don’t want to speculate, but I would put some money on a bet that static discharge was involved. (Perhaps a ground was not properly connected, somewhere. Oops! There goes my resistance to speculate.)

  • Cotour

    I am really not asserting that the object was the direct cause of the incident, but it is very interesting, unusual and coincidental you will have to admit.

    From my viewing it over and over it does appear to be at the proper height and moving behind what I assume are lightning towers that surround the rocket. There is also clearly a spherical reflection off of the top of what ever it is when it is just to the left of the top of the rocket. I am sure that it corresponds to the sun’s position in the sky. It does not in any way resemble a bird to me.

  • C. Cecil

    If there was an object that flew by with enough size to reflect light, wouldn’t it have been recorded by the closest primary radar site? From what I understand, ATC facilities make recordings of their radar images.
    Another possible source of information. Flight path trajectory?? I am not a conspiracy theorist, but all available tools should be used in an investigation of this magnitude.

  • BSJ

    It’s a bird, close to the camera.

    You guys seeing anything different need your eyes checked and or better monitors!

  • Max

    What about the other object? And the return flight of the bird from behind the explosion flying out the way it came? It must be 5 to 10 feet in diameter to be visible at such a great range. The bird circling around the rocket at a very high rate of speed would seem improbable. Flying behind the explosion and emerging from the other side moving upward without slowing.
    As the object moves from lower left towards the rocket, another object appears emerging from the rocket on lower left for a few frames.
    It, or another object, appears above the explosion and remains there for many frames even as the ball of fire envelops it. It hovers there without moving, though it’s color changes from black to reflection of white with the appearance of spinning.
    As the explosion progresses, many objects are thrown at a ballistic trajectory from the site but none of these objects have the unusual motions of the first two…

  • Cotour


    Q: Reconcile…….Speed of object…….distance from camera ……and….distance traveled by object right to left.

    Speed way, way, way too high from my observation.

  • Cotour


    Please review this video….

    Stop it at the :40 second mark and you can clearly see that the object appears to emerge from behind the top of left hand tower. You can see it emerge right on the top of steel structure deck before it transitions into the long white lightning rod / white tube.

    No? If it is then that establishes the distance of the object from the camera, which I assume is 3 miles or so away?

    There is a second object that is moving at a 45 degree angle going up, lower left to right, again, from behind the left hand tower base. I thought this was debris launched from the explosion but this video points out nicely that it began its movement before the blast and it continued and moved through and behind the blast and emerged appearing to be debris.

    Again it is moving at high speed, you can see it comes from the clear sky behind the rocket and moves through the blast and emerges from behind the blast as the blast grows. This looks to me to be a second object moving at extremely high speed.

  • Cotour

    The more video I review it appears to be establishable that the two objects observed in the SpaceX explosion will be determined to be at a distance that is very close to the rocket and not a bug or bird close to the camera.

    The object observed crossing from right to left at the rocket top height and in between the towers and the other object moving behind the rocket and towers at a 45 degree angle up from bottom left to upper right traveling behind the developing blast and seen emerging from behind the developing blast.

    All at extremely high speeds. What is that?

  • pzatchok


    With the price of GoPro’s now why not have then everyplace. Including inside the rocket, in those spaces not normally seen.

    They have 75 thousand cameras running during launch and no one thought to turn them on during the most dangerous test next to the launch itself?

    How about security cameras for the site itself? Or insurance demanded ones?

    I can’t help but sort of equate this whole private space endeavor to NASCAR race teams.
    Every car has about 6 cameras on board during a race. They watch everything going on all the time.
    With all the on board sensors and computer controls the pit crew know whats going on with the car before the driver does.

  • wayne

    I have to counter-differ with you on this. It’s futile and fruitless to go over that video-clip.
    Slowing it down to 1/250 doesn’t allow for the extraction of more information. That clip was recorded at a certain frame-rate & resolution and you just can’t get more information out of it than is actually there.
    I don’t know what velocity of detonation is for LOX, but it’s in the (high) hundred’s if not (low)thousand’s of meters-per-second. And the frame-rate is far below that. All we can see is the detonation jerkily evolve, because the frame-rate is so low.
    And the camera is roughly 10K feet away, obviously shot through a telephoto lens, and there is zero perspective or depth-perception that can determined. (and 2 miles of atmosphere & various airborne wildlife. Those images are about as 2-dimensional as you can get, and without the 3rd dimension or the necessary resolution, it’s pointless.

    I was watching video of Apollo 11 over the weekend– all sorts of airborne-wildlife flying all over for that launch, even in the technical-camera views. And from having witnessed Apollo-8 launch, from a similar distance away– the whole area is a swamp.

    Tangentially–and I was not aware of this, (still learn something new every day) but for the Apollo launches, they loaded up the RP-1 propellant up to a month in advance. They intentionally over-filled it, and then when they loaded the LOX, the RP-1 got colder and more dense, then they drained off any excess RP-1.

    Musk will find out what happened, I have no doubt, and to a high degree of certainty, but they aren’t crowd-sourcing the accident investigation on the ‘net.

    D K Rögnvald Williams is likely to have hit the nail on the head, one spark and everything turns to toast, which is why there isn’t a huge crowd of workers hanging around when they load the LOX. And the colder it is, the higher the pressure they have to deal with.
    Enough oxygen, will make damn near anything burn to a crisp.
    (and just from my anecdotal-mundane, non-rocket science, life experience, it’s often the 10 cent part that fails catastrophically, rather than the million-dollar part. But I would defer to actual engineers on that one.)

    The only thing I would speculate on at this point– it appears to be a detonation first, followed by multiple explosions. The flame front rapidly advances relatively smoothly, then it devolves into explosions.

    My obligatory Star Trek reference would be, “Assignment Earth.”

  • BSJ

    The objects are birds, “close” to the camera.
    No matter what conspiracy theories you come up with, or want to believe won’t change that.

    The camera is 2.5 miles away from the rocket. Do the math with the flash to bang…

    You are seeing what you want to see! No more, no less.

  • Cotour

    Lets just stick with the object that is moving up at 45 degrees behind the left hand tower base, from the lower left of the frame that is clearly BEHIND the tower and rocket (2.5 miles away from the camera) and moves up and to the right. First you see it clearly moving as the blast initiates and then it moves BEHIND the blast and emerges on the other side of the blast moving and a very high rate of speed.

    You do the calculations and describe to me the “bird” that moves at such a rate of speed. I don’t want to see anything, but what I see is plain to me. Although I have no idea what it might be.

    What is it that you want to see?

  • Cotour

    I am going to have to retract my “observation” about the smaller object moving at a 45 degree angle across the picture.

    In re reviewing the video it does appear that that object is in front of the rocket, blast and tower. As it moves through the blast it appears that the brightness makes it not possible to clearly see where it is and as it crosses the white tube on the center tower it does appear to move in front of the tube.

    I will wait for better analysis.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “I am really not asserting that the object was the direct cause of the incident, but it is very interesting, unusual and coincidental you will have to admit.”

    I admit no such thing. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is in the middle of a natural swamp. Not only are there a lot of birds, but there are alligators – stay far away from the logs in the swamp, as they did not come from trees – there are very few trees there. I’ve been there. I’ve seen the birds and alligators and some of the other wildlife. Not the manatees, though.

    That you bring up such an “object,” call it interesting and unusual means that you think that is has some bearing on the incident. Get over it. Even the “hovering” birds are just birds.

    Geez, guys! Do you not live in the real world? When I was a kid, my bedroom window faced out on a standard approach path for a local airport. This means that every once in a while, landing airplanes would fly toward my window, making them look like lights hovering in the sky. But did I conclude that they were UFOs out to blow up rockets? Hell no! It was just a result of the point of view and the distance to the plane. Likewise, birds flying toward (or away from) the camera would also look like they are hovering.

    You wrote: “What is it that you want to see?”

    I want to see a realistic, non-fantasy, rational investigation and analysis done for this incident. Linking to a video suggesting that birds are UFOs does not help.

  • Cotour

    I am just retracting my 45 degree object observation because upon re reviewing the video with the limited resources that I have I believe that I can see enough evidence that my observation was incorrect. If and when I determine I am incorrect I am happy to admit it.

    I still do not know what the larger and faster object that appears to be moving over the rocket is.

    We wait.

  • Edward

    When you hear hoof beats, do you assume zebras?

    You see a flying object in a wildlife area and assume it’s flying at mach 3.

  • Cotour

    Zebras are nice.

    If its flying over the rocket and is 2.5 miles away from the camera it is. If it is a bird or a bug flying about 20 feet in front of the camera as the rocket is exploding its not.

  • Edward

    “If its flying over the rocket”

    That’s a big if. The bird hypothesis is far more likely, and the mach 3 hypothesis is distracting us from more realistic speculations, such as why there was a fireball rather than a burst of propellant. Something caused a fire rather than just a burst tank. Even if the bird turns out to be a UFO, I doubt that it is the cause.

  • Edward: Can you explain why a fireball vs a burst of propellant matters?

  • Cotour

    If you re read my posts I have not proposed a cause for the explosion, I am mainly interested in the anomaly. The explosion to me is another subject, I have not proposed that the anomaly was the cause.

    Again, if the object is indeed at 2.5 miles from the camera and moving over the rocket, that is very interesting to me. I have not stated what it might be. (I know better than to theorize about what is not identifiable here, and I really do not have a clue.)

    What will you say if the object is through evidence established to be above the rocket? Mach 3 might be too slow.

    We wait.

  • Edward

    Robert asked: “Edward: Can you explain why a fireball vs a burst of propellant matters?”

    I will give it a try:

    Although both are bad — and a burst of propellant should have resulted in a stand-down while they found and fixed the problem on all other rockets — some ignition source caused the fireball. There is a real possibility that the accident would not have happened at all if the ignition source did not exist. For instance, if a spark in one of Apollo 13’s oxygen tanks had not occurred, Apollo 13 would have proceeded as planned, and we might have even less memory of it than we do of the Apollo 16 mission, as other than the accident, 13 and 16 may have been the least interesting of the missions, but at least 16 had a rover/car.

    It is sort of like refueling your car at the gas station. It is routine unless your cigarette starts a gasoline fire. It is also why it is recommended that you not use your cell phone while refueling; radio waves cause an electrical potential and there is a very small possibility that a spark can result, similar to sparks in your microwave oven when you put some kinds of metal objects inside.

    If there had been a burst of propellant, then the rocket may have maintained enough structural integrity that the payload may not have been lost. As we saw, the strongback alone was strong enough to hold the payload for a few seconds amid the catastrophe. Also, as we saw, the upper stage did not explode in the same way as happened on the CRS-7 mission; the action seemed to start on only one side of the rocket, so I think that the rocket may have remained largely intact had it just been a burst of propellant. It is hard to see through the fireball, but I did not get the sense that the upper stage was ripped apart in the same way as it looked like happened on CRS-7; otherwise, I suspect, the fireball would have gotten much bigger much faster.

  • t-dub

    Cotour . . . its a bird dude. Get over it.

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