The Strategist

Fallen Falcon

06/29/2015 - 16:00

The launch vehicle Falcon 9 of SpaceX company, launched June 28, 2015 at 10:21 EST from the launch site at Cape Canaveral, exploded in the third minute after the start. This is the first major failure of private American company headed by Elon Musk.

Falcon 9 rocket explosion occurred after 2 minutes 19 seconds after launch, when the carrier moved to the hypersonic motion. After other 8 seconds the missile fell apart. Musk described the occurrence of excessive pressure in the tank with an oxidizing agent in the second stage of the rocket (its upper stage) as a version of the causes of the incident. The first stage has not yet been separated. The company SpaceX, together with NASA, launched an investigation. A carrier aircraft was immediately sent by the proposed fell debris area, and NASA offers reporting hotline on the discovery of fragments of the rocket.

Falcon 9 rocket was supposed to bring ship Dragon, also created by SpaceX, with more than 1.8 tons of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Besides food, Dragon carried on board International Docking Adaptor (IDA), and the suit for spacewalk. IDA weighing 526 kilos was manufactured by Boeing and was intended to be installed on the ISS for future connections to the manned version of the ship Dragon (Dragon 2 modification).

Loss of these components cannot help but affect the implementation of the scientific program of the ISS. Also, as an additional load by order of Planet Labs, Falcon 9 carried eight satellites Flock 1f (each consisting of three vehicles CubeSat), designed for Earth observation in the optical range.

The two-stage rocket Falcon has two versions - 9 v1.0 and 9 v1.1. The second differs from the first by advanced design of engines and their location on the lower level. The fuel is kerosene oxidizer - liquid oxygen. Unlike the version 1.0 with the capacity of 3.4 tons, Falcon 9 v1.1 is able to bring to geosynchronous transfer orbit 4.85 tons of payload.

Version 1.0 is currently not being used. The length of the Falcon 9 v1.1 is 68,4 meters, maximum launch weight - 506 tons. For comparison: the length of the Russian rocket "Proton-M" - 58.2 meters, the starting weight - 705 tons, and it brings up 6.74 tons on the geosynchronous transfer orbit (from the Baikonur Cosmodrome). The cost of the Falcon 9 launch is estimated at $ 60 million, "Proton-M" - 30 million more.

Falcon 9 rocket launched from pads at Cape Canaveral in Florida and Vandenberg base in California. SpaceX currently deploys two more pads. Since the first launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1, held on 29 September 2013, the company is testing reusable component of the missile technology. None of the launches has not allowed to keep the first step so far.

In the period from 4 June 2010 to March 1, 2013, a rocket Falcon 9 v1.0 started five times, four times - in a completely normal mode. Start October 8, 2012, when the Falcon 9 first sent a truck to the ISS Dragon, was found partially successful due to the withdrawal of additional payload - the satellite Orbcomm-G2 – on a lower, than originally planned, orbit.

This led to the fact that Orbcomm-G2 descended from orbit and October 12, 2012, burned in the atmosphere. SpaceX said that an explosion in the 79th second conical fairing in the first stage of the rocket engine might have been the reason for the failure. This increased load on the remaining eight stages of rocket’s engine. As noted in SpaceX, Falcon 9’s first stage of the launcher is able to perform the task, even with two engines stopped with increased load on the remaining seven.  

Falcon 9 v1.1rocket was first launched on September 29, 2013. All 10 previous launches have been successful. For comparison: April 7, 2001 to May 16, 2015, "Proton-M" has made 90 starts, 10 of which were non-standard. Falcon 9 statistics, despite the small number of starts, looks better than the "Proton-M". However, when compared to other vehicles (eg, the European heavy Ariane 5 and medium-sized Russian "Soyuz"), the private US rocket is the loser.

At present, the ISS is hosting a crew of Expedition 44, consisting of commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineers Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly. They expected docking with Dragon on June 30, and sending it to Earth with 600 kilograms of cargo on 5th August. Earlier, another truck - Russian "Progress M-27M",launched on April 28, 2015, has not reached the ISS too.

Food and essential components for life support should be enough to stay until October 2015. After the Dragon, the transport ship "Progress M-28M" is expected to go to the ISS. Its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a rocket "Soyuz-U" is scheduled for July 3, 2015. This will be the first launch of the Russian truck after the emergency situation that occurred on April 28, 2015.

To date, only ships of four types can deliver cargo to the ISS: the Russian "Progress", the Japanese HTV, as well as private American Dragon and Cygnus (of Orbital Sciences company). At the same time, Dragon - only one space truck able to return loads from orbit to the Earth. The NASA contract with SpaceX assumed 12 flights of Dragon to the ISS. In March, the contract was extended until 2017 and 15 starts. This flight to the ISS as part of a commercial program was seventh (eighth - with the test flight to the ISS, the ninth - with the first orbital flight) and the last time, Falcon 9 with Dragon space truck launched April 14, 2015.
Accidents in the space industry in recent years have ceased to be a rarity. In the US alone in the last year there were three incidents (including the latter). All - with private rockets and vehicles. October 28, 2014, a private rocket Antares exploded after launch at the Wallops Island in Virginia. It had to send a truck Cygnus to the ISS, which, together with the rocket, was manufactured by Orbital Sciences.
October 31, 2014, SpaceShipTwo rocket, intended for suborbital tourist flights, crashed in the United States in the area of the Mojave Desert during a test flight. One of the two pilots was killed, software company Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, is still trying to eliminate the causes of the disaster.

Cygnus spacecraft’s fourth launch to the ISS, scheduled for December 2015, is to be performed by a rocket Atlas V (401), not Antares. As the head of NASA, Charles Bolden, put it, if SpaceX quickly find and correct the causes of the collapse of the Falcon 9, the US space agency will maintain confidence in the private company. There is no choice: the United States can not afford to rely on the Russian "Progress", Cygnus and Japanese HTV.

As noted in the NASA, the accident will not affect the agency's plans to establish a US manned spacecraft. In particular, Boeing, and SpaceX are developing planes for flights to the ISS. In addition, Elon Musk plans to make the first launch of heavy rocket Falcon Heavy in 2015, and thus potentially compete with Russian "Proton" and the European Ariane 5. Yet, the accident happened showed again that no one is safe from disasters during space exploration.

source: lenta