Space X rocket explodes shortly after takeoff

Elon Musk's Dragon 9 rocket, on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, blew up shortly after takeoff on Sunday.  It was the first mishap for the Dragon 9 since the Space X rocket became operational and the third disaster in 8 months of rockets trying to resupply the space station.

NBC News:

"We appear to have had a launch vehicle failure," NASA spokesman George Diller observed. Air Force officials said the rocket "experienced an anomaly" 148 seconds into the flight. Debris from the breakup fell into the Atlantic Ocean without causing damage or injury on the ground.

SpaceX billionaire founder Elon Musk, who turned 44 years old on Sunday,reported in a tweet that "there was an overpressure event in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank."

SpaceX's president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, echoed that preliminary assessment during a news briefing later Sunday — but she said it was too early to say anything else about the cause of the mishap. SpaceX is in charge of the investigation, under the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration. Shotwell said SpaceX crews were trying to recover debris from the sea.

Shotwell indicated that Falcon 9 rocket launches would be suspended until the FAA signs off on SpaceX's findings, a process that she said would probably take "a number of months" but not as long as a year. At least three payloads are on the manifest for Falcon 9 launches in the near term, including the Jason 3 ocean-observing satellite and the SES 9 and Orbcomm OG2 telecom satellites.

Space writer Rand Simberg explains the possible fallout from the crash:

With the loss of the Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket last fall, and the Russian Progress flight a few weeks ago, NASA now has no reliable launch providers to service the space station. But reliable or not, they will have to press forward with another Progress attempt this coming week. NASA also plans to move ahead with its next crewed flight on the Soyuz this summer, to get back to full capacity for research.

It isn’t a crisis, yet. The crew has four months of supplies, and they’ll get more soon with a successful Progress flight. The previous SpaceX mission had returned experiments in the station freezer, so that was not urgent for this flight, either. The biggest loss was the new International Docking Adapter, needed to allow multiple types of crew vehicles to dock with the station. However, there is a back up, and enough parts to build a third one. A few miniature satellites planned to be deployed into orbit from the ISS were also lost. Per the contract, the company won’t be required to refly, but will pay a penalty for the failure.

Politically, while it was a bad day for Elon Musk and his company and space enthusiasts generally, it was probably a good one for Senator Richard Shelby and others on the Hill who have been continually pressuring NASA to focus on a single provider (presumably their favorite, Boeing) for the Commercial Crew program, while chronically under funding it. In the ongoing budget battle this summer, they will doubtless attempt to use this failure as ammunition, even though it’s illogical to think that we should be reducing budgets and redundancy in the face of a failure. If anything, as with the Antares loss last year, it demonstrated the crucial need for multiple providers.

The event is also a reminder that opening frontiers is never safe or easy, and that space is the harshest one that we ever had to deal with. But each loss is also a lesson learned, and another step forward.

Musk is banking on NASA's need for a space taxi to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.  Just recently, NASA gave preliminary approval to Space X for the outline of how they intend to get astronauts to the ISS.  And a successful test of the abort procedure last month shows how far the company has come.  There are other certification steps that must be met, but the company believes that it can start ferrying humans to the ISS by late 2016.  If successful, Space X will be the first private company to launch humans into space.

Space X will carry out the investigation of the failure itself, which will probably speed the process along.  Once recertified to fly – probably early next year – the Dragon will make another attempt to resupply the ISS.

Elon Musk's Dragon 9 rocket, on a resupply mission to the International Space Station, blew up shortly after takeoff on Sunday.  It was the first mishap for the Dragon 9 since the Space X rocket became operational and the third disaster in 8 months of rockets trying to resupply the space station.

NBC News:

"We appear to have had a launch vehicle failure," NASA spokesman George Diller observed. Air Force officials said the rocket "experienced an anomaly" 148 seconds into the flight. Debris from the breakup fell into the Atlantic Ocean without causing damage or injury on the ground.

SpaceX billionaire founder Elon Musk, who turned 44 years old on Sunday,reported in a tweet that "there was an overpressure event in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank."

SpaceX's president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, echoed that preliminary assessment during a news briefing later Sunday — but she said it was too early to say anything else about the cause of the mishap. SpaceX is in charge of the investigation, under the oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration. Shotwell said SpaceX crews were trying to recover debris from the sea.

Shotwell indicated that Falcon 9 rocket launches would be suspended until the FAA signs off on SpaceX's findings, a process that she said would probably take "a number of months" but not as long as a year. At least three payloads are on the manifest for Falcon 9 launches in the near term, including the Jason 3 ocean-observing satellite and the SES 9 and Orbcomm OG2 telecom satellites.

Space writer Rand Simberg explains the possible fallout from the crash:

With the loss of the Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket last fall, and the Russian Progress flight a few weeks ago, NASA now has no reliable launch providers to service the space station. But reliable or not, they will have to press forward with another Progress attempt this coming week. NASA also plans to move ahead with its next crewed flight on the Soyuz this summer, to get back to full capacity for research.

It isn’t a crisis, yet. The crew has four months of supplies, and they’ll get more soon with a successful Progress flight. The previous SpaceX mission had returned experiments in the station freezer, so that was not urgent for this flight, either. The biggest loss was the new International Docking Adapter, needed to allow multiple types of crew vehicles to dock with the station. However, there is a back up, and enough parts to build a third one. A few miniature satellites planned to be deployed into orbit from the ISS were also lost. Per the contract, the company won’t be required to refly, but will pay a penalty for the failure.

Politically, while it was a bad day for Elon Musk and his company and space enthusiasts generally, it was probably a good one for Senator Richard Shelby and others on the Hill who have been continually pressuring NASA to focus on a single provider (presumably their favorite, Boeing) for the Commercial Crew program, while chronically under funding it. In the ongoing budget battle this summer, they will doubtless attempt to use this failure as ammunition, even though it’s illogical to think that we should be reducing budgets and redundancy in the face of a failure. If anything, as with the Antares loss last year, it demonstrated the crucial need for multiple providers.

The event is also a reminder that opening frontiers is never safe or easy, and that space is the harshest one that we ever had to deal with. But each loss is also a lesson learned, and another step forward.

Musk is banking on NASA's need for a space taxi to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.  Just recently, NASA gave preliminary approval to Space X for the outline of how they intend to get astronauts to the ISS.  And a successful test of the abort procedure last month shows how far the company has come.  There are other certification steps that must be met, but the company believes that it can start ferrying humans to the ISS by late 2016.  If successful, Space X will be the first private company to launch humans into space.

Space X will carry out the investigation of the failure itself, which will probably speed the process along.  Once recertified to fly – probably early next year – the Dragon will make another attempt to resupply the ISS.