Falcon 1 lost due to fuel leak

By Phil Plait | March 25, 2006 6:57 pm

‘The SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket was lost after launch due to a fuel leak from an as-yet undetermined problem. However, even right after launch the leak is pretty obvious:

29 seconds after launch the engine shut down automatically. The rocket went up due its momentum for a short time, then fell back to Earth… landing just 250 feet from the launch pad! Bummer. Amazing, but a bummer. The good news is it fell on a reef offshore, so the rocket parts can be recovered and examined. SpaceX has already said they will forge onward. I say good for them!

Incidentally, the satellite the rocket was lofting fell through the roof of a nearby machine shop when it came down. Scary (I mean, yikes!), but that means they can recover it, too. I doubt they can fix it; it fell from a long way up. Not exactly orbit, but enough that it may not be salvageable. We’ll know more soon.’

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Science

Comments (26)

  1. TheBlackCat

    Personally I probably launched a dummy satellite the first time around instead of a real payload. But it sound like a completely fixable problem, and it is promising that the system detectedt the problem and shut down before something catastrophic (or downright dangerous) happened.

  2. Andy

    TBC:

    i think cost was the deciding factor with no test launch, and actual paying launches are insured iirc. so it’s not actually that big a loss except as far as potential-customer confidence goes.

    /actually now that i think about it, it might only be the payload that’s insured.

  3. KingNor

    if this had killed someone coming down, what would happend to civilian space flight?

  4. If it’s a design flaw, other flaws will have been inherited down the chain and the problem could turn out to take a while to fix.

    If it’s a matter of a couple of bolts not being tightened, then it’s a sign of lax procedures and other problems will most likely arise.

    During the web cast of the launch, I noticed a tent in the foreground being blown apart from the exhaust. That just seemed plain amateurish to me, even if it was planned. As much as I love explosions and things being blown apart, it just doesn’t seem right.

  5. George

    i feel like i’m seeing the making of moonraker……thats some pretty stiff wind….almost hurricane like….i missed the webcast launch but i’m glad to find out these guys are going to try again

  6. PK

    I’m not sure I’m altogether happy that this thing landed in a reef. Of course, it’s an accident, and nobody planned it. But you don’t play baseball next to the china. How bad is the damage on the reef?

  7. Hopefully, this won’t turn out to be due to an overflow error in the guidance computer, like what happened with that Ariane 5 rocket in 1996.

    This is completely off-topic, but what do people think about the creationist plagiarist who got caught in the act? (Hey, “creationist plagiarist” — that has a sort of ring to it.)

  8. David Spencer

    The satellite was a cadet-built satellite from the U.S. Air Force Academy. These satellites are built on a shoe string budget, and are as much as an educational exercise in building a satellite as they are something that will gather lots of scientific data. While no doubt that the cadets and their faculty advisors are extremely disappointed that the booster failed, the students did get an excellent educational experience in building this satellite.

  9. Phobos

    I’ll echo PK’s reef concern (and still be for the program overall). Never mind the direct impact…but the spewing of the remaining rocket fuel all over the reef. Another one of those and you’ll have government agencies shutting down the program. Either that, or the cost of cleanup will bankrupt the program.

  10. Blake, the parallels with Ben Domenech and George Deutsch are positively eerie, if you’re prone to that sort of thing. :-) I’ve been too busy to write about it, but I still might.

  11. Sean Manning

    Loosing that first Falcon was sad. It does seem odd that they launched their first real payload on their first test flight. They seem to have adequate funding, so hopefully this won’t endanger Space Exploration Technologies’ survival.

    It is regrettable that it hit a reef. Let’s hope that the local environmental regulations are sensible, and that this doesn’t happen again.

    A lot of good things will start happening once we start reducing the cost of getting mass to orbit again.

  12. Troy

    Be careful, you’ll put your eye out, kid!

    …Reminds me of some of my model rocket flights.

  13. Henry

    I believe the payload was a DARPA/Air Force satellite. I would expect this wasn’t insured as it generally doesn’t make economic sense for governments to insure launches.

  14. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. . . .

    Though the worst rocket accident I’ve personally witnessed happened when my roommate was propelling two-liter soda bottles by filling them with a water-liquid nitrogen mix. It’s not explosive; it just boils really well. And firing them off your thumb while drunk is, ahem, contraindicated.

    I had never considered “tearing a piece off my thumb” a possibility.

    Switching tracks — I’m very glad to hear that someone else has seen a parallel between the two Ds. I was starting to think that my years of wild hedonism had caught up with me and made me see double.

  15. Melusine

    Blake Stacey:

    This is completely off-topic, but what do people think about the creationist plagiarist who got caught in the act? (Hey, “creationist plagiarist” — that has a sort of ring to it.)

    Lies are created only by man. Ironic. Not a very original thinker. [fill in all the blanks]

    Lucky about the machine shop. Hope people don’t get paranoid about falling rocket parts. 250 feet away from the pad…not good. BTW, that’s not a very significant reef–it’ll be OK. Besides all the cruise ships are killing the area anyway.

  16. Kevin from NYC

    The good news is it fell on a reef offshore,

    errr that dosn’t sound good for the reef……

    or the fish….

  17. Karnalis

    Kevin from NYC beat me to it. I was thinking the same thing.

  18. dre

    The link in the post mentions that the rocket landed on a “dead reef”. I don’t know what that means, but it might answer the several questions in these comments.

  19. ioresult

    I thought common practice was to build rockets capable of self-destruction just in case something like that happened. Prevents whole rockets full of fuel from falling down on people’s heads and machine shops and coral reefs. I beleive they destroyed Ariane 5 in mid flight when it went bad.

  20. SpaceX’s rocket unit costs are about $6.7 million a pop, according to their website, and launching by anyone else would have cost more. The satellite they were to launch is only cost $800,000, and was a student project. At that price, it seems perfectly reasonable to whack that payload on it even if it had, say, only a 1/3 chance of successfully launching.

    Besides, having a real payload on it was probably a handy psychological motivator for the SpaceX crew. If there wasn’t a payload on there, the temptation might have been to treat it as a test run, and no big deal if they fail.

  21. Melusine

    dre Says:

    March 26th, 2006 at 9:39 pm
    The link in the post mentions that the rocket landed on a “dead reef”. I don’t know what that means, but it might answer the several questions in these comments.

    A dead reef means just that: instead of colorful biodiversity it’s just dull rock coral. Sure, fish may still hide out there, but it’s not teeming with life as in live reefs (which are part of that atoll). You can see dead vs live here.

    You can read an environmental impact study about Space X and Omelek Island; they’ve had to take all sorts of precautions to not disturb the native life, appropriately dispose of water, tent the run-off pond so birds don’t land in it; fence the beach area 328 feet on either side of the pad so turtles will stay away from the area, and so on. People are evacuated off the island, all materials are inspected for non-native life (construction materials, et al) before going on the island (don’t want rats and such), and a respect for native life is mandated. They feel the risk would be seldom enough not to be a major problem to the atoll.

    Sure, it’s never pleasant when marine life gets clobbered, but there are many more consistent practices, e.g. cruise ships, tankers, military sonar testing, that are MUCH more major than the occasional rocket failure. [ok, a little rant there] :-)

  22. ioresult:

    Technically, Ariane 5 destroyed itself when it went bad — the people on the ground had no idea what was coming. The space shuttle also has destruct charges, three “Range Safety Systems” (one in each SRB and one in the external tank), which are used “only when the shuttle vehicle violates a launch trajectory red line”, whatever that means translated out of NASA-speak. The decision about whether or not to put the destruct charges on the shuttle had some politics behind it, which Richard Feynman talked about in What Do You Care What Other People Think?, apropos his adventures on the Challenger investigative commission.

    Melusine:

    Nice rant. (-:

  23. Joseph Langevin

    I see where someone said they should have launched with a dummy payload. The problem with that is, you dont use the same booster a second time. Each launch is a crap shoot. I have worked in the Aerospace industry for over 30 years and have seen a lot of “proven” boosters blow up during launch. Titan 3s and 4s as well as Atlases and Deltas. Each booster is nothing more than a very controlled (we hope) explosion bomb. The problem is when they get out of control and go BOOM!!

  24. schwa sticker

    “Loosing that first Falcon was sad. It does seem odd that they launched their first real payload on their first test flight. They seem to have adequate funding, so hopefully this won’t endanger Space Exploration Technologies’ survival.”

    They fired the Falcon from a bow? That doesn’t sound like adequate funding to me!

  25. YOU FEDS ARE ALL THE SAME- NFG.

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