Falcon 9 launches Dragon; 1st stage return fails


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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket today successfully launched a Dragon cargo capsule to ISS.

Unfortunately, a problem with the first stage had it fail to land on its target landing pad, instead landing in the ocean. This failure is the first in quite some time for a SpaceX first stage. It was the first failure however of their Block 5 first stages, which might impact the manned Dragon launch schedule set for this coming year.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

33 China
20 SpaceX
13 Russia
10 Europe (Arianespace)
8 ULA

This SpaceX launch was the 100th successful rocket launch for 2018, the first time the global rocket industry has reached the century figure since 1991, before the fall of the Soviet Union. As SpaceX’s 20th launch this year it sets a new record for launches by a private company. In fact, this total exceeds the average number of launches for the entire U.S. from 2001 to 2016, and clearly demonstrates how SpaceX has not only become the world’s dominate launch company, its effort to foster competition into the launch industry has served to energize it, for everyone.

In the national rankings, China continues to lead the U.S. 33 to 32.

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23 comments

  • Kirk

    Musk just tweeted the down link video of the water landing which was cut from the live webcast.

    https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1070399755526656000

    Quite a ride! I’m amazed that it was finally able to stabilize itself.

  • geoffc

    This is the most successful failure I have ever seen.

    They will get the booster back mostly intact so they can examine the pump to see why it broke.

    They basically landed successfully, just for safety reasons did not try it at the pad. I.e. It would have probably worked if they let it aim for land. (They of course made the right call).

    They had a very major failure when they had very little time to recover, and they did. Amazing.

    I doubt this (landing) will affect Crew Dragon, though of course those in NASA who want to delay will use it as such an excuse.

  • Des

    This shouldn’t affect crew dragon as it was a failure in the recovery system. Atlas V first stage is destroyed in every launch and that in no way impacts its ability to launch starliner safely.

  • While it shouldn’t impact the Crewed Dragon flights, they will find a way to make it an issue. Change comes slow for a lot of people – especially when they are being showed up by the new kid. The fact that SpaceX has become the most successful rocket company in the world and they have constantly improved their systems in the process will have no bearing on the curmudgeons who are set in their ways.

  • Even if Musk’s tweet about fishing out the stage and reflying it on some SpaceX internal mission proves wildly optimistic, if they can get it back at all, some major, expensive components are probably in usable shape. The octaweb and grid fins are titanium and account for a significant fraction of the stage’s cost. The engines are probably recoverable as well.

  • mpthompson

    Because of an earlier landing failure SpaceX switched from an open-loop hydraulic system to a closed-loop system. I wonder if this failure will provide an impetuous to move to a redundant closed-loop system. Of course, every pounded added for such a system cuts into payload capacity. Perhaps once they examine the failure closely they can come up with another way of increasing the reliability. Fortunately, it looks like they will have a fairly easy time getting good forensic information on the failure.

  • pzatchok

    They could split the hydraulic system into two.

    Each one controlling opposing grid fins. That way if one goes down the other half could counter act it so the engines have a better chance of finishing a recovery.

    That way they are only adding a second pump and a few feet of additional plumbing. Plus the programming for it.

    Maybe only 20 lbs at most.

  • Kirk

    You’ve all probably already seen this, but here is Musk’s tweet with a tracking shot (ground to air video) of the water landing.

    Word is that they have the stage hooked up to a tow and are station keeping with it off Port Canaveral, keeping it out of the channel while figuring out how to recover it.

  • Kirk

    The T-0 call on the countdown net for yesterday’s launch was:

    “… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. Ignition. Liftoff. Go Dragon. Godspeed 41.”

    I assume that last was a tribute to George H. W. Bush (41st president), whose funeral had concluded less than an hour earlier.

  • wayne

    Kirk–
    Good stuff.
    You save me a lot of time looking this stuff up, by myself! (thank you.)

  • Kirk

    Thanks wayne.

    Here is a tweet from a photographer who presumably hired a helicopter to take some aerial shots of the workers preparing the stage for recovery. (Click on the photos for larger versions.)

    People over on NSF are monitoring VHF traffic and reporting on activities down there:

    * There was work overnight onboard GO Navigator (one of the vessels under contract to SpaceX) fabricating some recovery equipment, including a long bar with end fitting — possibly a tow bar of some sort?
    * Logan Diver & Salvage headed out this morning to begin work.
    * One landing leg has been removed.
    * They still haven’t decided if they will try to bring it in to Port Canaveral overnight, or if they will do so tomorrow ~ 9 a.m., after morning traffic.

  • Kirk

    And here is a tweet with some photos of the floating stage taken from shore. They aren’t nearly as good as the aerial ones, but it is interesting to get a feel of what it looks like from shore.

  • Kirk

    … AND, here is some great ground-to-air tracking video from US Launch Report. It shows the last minute and a half of flight four successive times, from cameras using successively less zoom. While I usually love to see the hyper-zoomed in shots during landing, the lesser zoomed in ones here better show that stage’s wild gyrations. What a landing! Remember, that stage is 47.5 m / 156 ft from bottom of nozzle to top of interstage.

  • wayne

    Kirk–
    again, great stuff!

  • Kirk

    The booster is being towed toward the port, engine end first. Photo. The interstage is damaged, which might have left them without a good tow point on the top of the booster. They only removed the one landing leg to reduce draft, and have inflatable floats on the two neighboring legs to keep the stage from rolling 180 degrees.

    OCISLY (the landing barge — not a barge!) has been shifted a few hundred feet, leaving space for the booster to be brought along the quay near the cranes which normally lift the booster off the barge.

  • wayne

    Kirk–
    — so, do we know anything as to what malfunctioned?

    (just an amateur — looked like it wasn’t able to ‘lock onto the target’ and got caught in some sort of feedback loop whilst trying to stabilize itself.) (?) [ techno-babble, is not my forte!]

    Say— for the returning 1st stage— where approximately would the center-of-gravity be along the axis? (Is it inherently bottom-heavy, all the way down to the ground?)
    (I have no concept of how much the 1st stage weighs by itself.)

    Again– good stuff! (and everyone else, as well. Saves me a ton of time and I appreciate the effort.) I do love all this stuff, just not a hard core geek, but I try to get a grip on all the simultaneous-complexity that’s going on.

    (they’ve made it look so easy, it’s only news when something doesn’t work perfectly! Personally, I’m absolutely amazed these things don’t blow up, more often. We are, living in the Future.)

  • wayne

    “A collection of NASA visuals and photos taken from the internet that have been fused with Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon album. This is the short version.”

    The Universe timed to Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon
    https://youtu.be/RxyB2ZhQSVI
    14:27

  • Kirk

    The booster is now in port and tied up. It will be interesting to see how they lift it.

    wayne, all we really know is from Musk’s tweet that grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, and that there was no redundancy since landing is not mission critical, though they will now be looking into whether they should add a backup.

    Yes, the center of gravity is very low, given that the propellant tanks are nearly empty and the nine engines represent a good fraction of the dry weight — though I don’t know specific numbers. When asked during the post-launch news conference how the booster managed to stabilize itself well enough to land, Hans Koenigsmann said he still wasn’t sure, and was looking forward to studying the telemetry. The mechanics of tumbling and rotation can be quite complicated, as demonstrated in this mesmerizing 34 second clip of a “Dancing T-handle” on the ISS.

    https://youtu.be/1n-HMSCDYtM

    And wayne, thanks for the thanks. In return I should point out that I’ve enjoyed quite a few of those videos you’ve posted. Cheers!

  • wayne

    Kirk–
    As Bill Cunningham would say, “you’re a great American!”
    (just don’t let john mccain throw you under a bus)

    Cool video- had never seen that.

    Q: is the ISS environment considered “micro-gravity,” or what exactly?

    pivoting….
    Animals in Space
    (Dog – Cat – Frog – Pigeons – Lizards)
    https://youtu.be/GokLxK2ZGX0
    4:20

  • Kirk

    The booster was lifted late last night and is now resting horizontally on land, supported by stands on either end. Here is a photo taken this morning by NSF contributor cygnusx112.

    The CRS-16 cargo Dragon capture was interrupted this morning due to ground communication issues with NASA’s TDRS system. SpaceX livestreamed the process (something they don’t normally do — I suspect that it was practice for the livestream they will have for the DM-1 Dragon 2 test mission docking), and they were live for three and a half hours! Capture finally occurred at 12:21 UTC (07:21 EST), a 07:58. Berthing scheduled at about 15:30 UTC (10:30 EST) and will be covered live on NASA TV.

    DM-1 launch date has slipped ten days to 17 January for ISS traffic concerns. During the CRS-16 post-launch news conference, Hans Koenigsmann said that SpaceX (which is supposed to finally have all its hardware ready by 20 December) would rather fly DM-1 after the CRS-16 capsule returned in mid-January so their teams could give their full attention to the uncrewed demo mission. This launch date is subject to several reviews, and Administrator Bridenstine’s comments hint that NASA administration might side with ASAP and delay even further over concerns with unmodeled anomalies observed during Dragon 1 parachute deployments.

    The next SpaceX launch, the last for the year, will be for the first GPS III satellite, currently scheduled for 18 December from the Cape. The final Iridium Next launch is now scheduled for 7 January from Vandenberg.

  • Kirk

    SpaceX/CRS-16 berthing was completed at 15:36 UTC (10:36 EST).

    Here is a diagram showing the current ISS configuration, with two Progress, two Soyuz, one Cygnus, and one Dragon spacecraft. In answer to a question at the CRS-16 pre-launch news conference, Joel Montalbano (NASA’s ISS Deputy Manager) said he thought that six Visiting Vehicles might be a record.

    wayne, I believe that the ISS environment is called microgravity because experiments are subject to very small accelerations from numerous sources: vibrations from equipment and astronaut movement, once per orbit rotation of the station as it maintains its nadir windows facing Earth, atmospheric drag, and gravity differential/tidal forces across the depth of the structure. Periodically, it also experiences milli-g level acceleration during orbital reboosting. I don’t believe that any of those effects were an issue at the distance and time scales of that “Dancing T-handle”.

    Pivoting with you, I don’t know what to make of the footage showing the serene dog (a Kishu?) starting at 2:30. Is that an ISS module or Spacelab? I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen, but it is very well done.

  • wayne

    Kirk–
    Thanks for the factoids.

    yeah– the dog scene does look a little suspicious. I don’t recall ever hearing about that. (but then again, Fake News and all, ya know!?)

  • Edward

    Kirk wrote: “I don’t believe that any of those effects were an issue at the distance and time scales of that ‘Dancing T-handle’.

    I believe that the “dancing T-handle” occurs because the handle is not symmetric around the spin axis. It has been a while since my dynamics class, but there are factors in the moment of inertia equations that account for a lack of symmetry, and behaviors different from a symmetrical spinning “top” or gyroscope are to be expected.

    Kirk,
    Thank you for the photos and information. This helps keep us up to date. I was surprised to see that there is a single lift point along the length of the first stage rather than a requirement to lift from each end. I suspect that there is a good hardpoint, at the tank interface (for those who don’t know, the fuel and oxygen tanks share a bulkhead), that allows for such stresses. Balancing that thing during a single-point lift must be quite a job.

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