SpaceX has reported that they have found the cause of the Falcon 9 launch abort this morning.


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In an email update, SpaceX reports that they have found the cause of the Falcon 9 launch abort this morning.

During rigorous inspections of the engine, SpaceX engineers discovered a faulty check valve on the Merlin engine. We are now in the process of replacing the failed valve. Those repairs should be complete tonight. We will continue to review data on Sunday. If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday, May 22nd at 3:44 AM Eastern.

If this is true, than this entire exercise is an unqualified success and illustrates a certain robustness to SpaceX’s engineering on Falcon 9. Their control computer during the launch process spotted the problem before it caused a complete loss of the vehicle and payload. They can now locate the problem, fix it, and proceed with launch.

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10 comments

  • Joe

    Just a word of caution.

    They did a test firing before launch that did not show this “faulty check valve”,

    Are they going to do another test firing to assure the problem has been rectified?

  • Darren

    How can you say it’s an “unqualified success”? when the mission objectives were not met? They didn’t even launch off the pad. It’s a success of their safety procedures, yes, but not of mission success. Let us hope they can make the next launch window and actually lift off and get to orbit! :)

  • Hi Darren,

    This is not an operational flight, but an engineering demo test flight. Thus, success is not measured merely by getting into orbit and achieving all your goals. Success is actually measured by the manner in which your engineering design works or does not work, and how well you can analysis what happens in order to improve the engineering for later launches. Even in the extreme case of the rocket exploding at launch (something that was quite unlikely), the data from that failure would still be the most important component of the launch. If they got the data and could find out why things went wrong, the test demo would still be an engineering success.

    In this case, the engineering design of the computer systems worked to perfection. That must be a very gratifying thing for the engineers and designers at SpaceX.

    Of course, there is the question of the failed valve. Why did it fail? Why did the quality controls during its construction and installation not catch the problem? These are the kinds of issues that I am sure SpaceX engineers and managers are studying right now with a great deal of interest — to put it mildly. That they have been able to pinpoint this problem now, without losing the rocket of spacecraft, is another sign of success.

  • Joe

    “Even in the extreme case of the rocket exploding at launch (something that was quite unlikely), the data from that failure would still be the most important component of the launch. If they got the data and could find out why things went wrong, the test demo would still be an engineering success.”

    And of course if sometime in the future such an event (abort or even explosion) should occur to a booster you find less appealing (say the ATK Liberty), you will call that a complete engineering success as well.

  • Kelly Starks

    Really that doesn’t mater. The big issue is they have been slipping this launch for — must be going on a year now – and it still failed to launch. From a engineering sence this may have provided data – but from a customer perspective, they can’t get it off the pad!

    Being a high cost, low relyability, provider – is bad for your busness future in a tight market.

  • It is always revealing when people put words in your mouth. You are wrong. I personally like ATK Liberty for many reasons, and would love to see them succeed, especially if that success would lower the cost to orbit.

  • Joe

    I apologize for getting your position on Liberty wrong. I used it as an example in hopes of getting a fair comparison among commercial space. The assumption you did not like it was because it is very similar in concept to the Ares I from Constellation Systems, which I think it fair to say you opposed.

    However your answer does not really address the issue of consistency. So let’s use a booster that you have in the past expressed less than admiration the SLS.

    If on an early test flight the SLS blows up (but they collect data from the explosion) will you really call that an “engineering success” as you say you would for the Falcon 9, or would you write another of your editorials blasting the “Senate Launch System” as a failure and demanding that the program be terminated?

  • My opposition to SLS is its cost, not its design. I have never spoken ill of the engineering behind it. When they did the Ares X-1 test flight in October 2009 (before this webpage had begun) my comments on the John Batchelor show revolved around two issues:

    1. The engineering of the test flight was a complete success, validating the design.

    2. The politics of the test flight, which were to save Ares from being killed by the Obama administration. Sadly, this aspect was partly successful, as it convinced Congress to impose the construction of SLS, even though it costs billions more than commercial space and will not produce any manned flights for almost a decade.

    Now that Ares I has been jettisoned from the program-formerly-called-Constellation, ATK is free to develop it as it wishes. If they can make the costs competitive with the other new commercial space companies, and get operational before these other companies, all power to them. And better for everyone.

    And if they can’t? Then we shouldn’t buy the product, as there are other options that cost less.

    As for SLS, there is no attempt there to lower costs, and in fact, it is impossible the way NASA is structured to build it. Though the design might be great, it isn’t practical. The country can’t afford it, and it will die (as did all other attempts by NASA to build a shuttle replacement) because of the expense.

    Better for us to find a more efficient road to get into space. And that road will follow the path of competition and free enterprise, not a Soviet-style government program.

  • Joe

    Thanks for the quick response and explaining you position on the Liberty Vehicle.

    However the question I asked has still not been answered (do not worry if you simply do not want to answer – for whatever reason – I will not ask again after this).

    You said (in answer to Darren):

    “Even in the extreme case of the rocket exploding at launch … the data from that failure would still be the most important component of the launch. If they got the data and could find out why things went wrong, the test demo would still be an engineering success.”

    My question was (and still is): If on an early test flight the SLS blows up (but they collect data from the explosion) will you really call that an “engineering success” as you say you would for the Falcon 9?

  • If it is a test flight, designed to find out what works and what doesn’t (as this Falcon 9 flight is), and they are able to obtain the data that explained what happens and it allows them to correct the problem, of course I’d call it an engineering success. Would it prove SLS as a practical system for getting humans into space? I doubt that, but that isn’t an engineering question.

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