Range Safety Destruct Signal Was Sent To Falcon 9, But Too Late

Range Safety Destruct Signal Was Sent To Falcon 9, But Too Late

SpaceX officials confirmed today that although a range safety destruct signal was sent to the Falcon 9 rocket yesterday, it was 70 seconds too late. The “mishap” had already occurred and the signal played no role in the loss of the vehicle. 

Until this statement from SpaceX, it was not clear if the rocket
malfunctioned, veered off course, and was destroyed by the Range
Safety Officer, or if the rocket exploded on its own.  Rockets are
equipped with Flight Termination Systems that can be activated by
sending an abort signal in order to protect public safety.

The Falcon 9 rocket exploded 139 seconds after launch yesterday (June 28).  The launch, at 10:21 am ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, part of the Air Force’s Eastern Test Range, came after a flawless countdown with excellent weather conditions.   It was sending a robotic Dragon spacecraft loaded with about two tons of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).  The mission was the seventh operational flight under SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA — CRS-7 or SpX-7.

No one was aboard this flight.  SpaceX is designing a crew version of Dragon for NASA’s commercial crew program, but that is not in service yet.  An emergency abort system is integrated into the crew version of Dragon.  It would allow the crew capsule to detach from its rocket at any point on the trip up to orbit and carry the crew away to a safe landing.

Two more SpaceX ISS cargo flights were planned this year, in September and December.   The schedule for those and all other launches of the Falcon 9 are on hold until this failure is understood. 

While many are focused on the impact to the ISS program or SpaceX’s efforts to compete for national security launches, SpaceX has many other customers who will be affected.  Among them is NOAA.  The launch of the Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite had been scheduled for August 8 after several delays.  A NOAA spokesman confirmed today that the failure has affected the Jason-3 launch and NOAA is working with its partners to determine the next steps.   NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) are the lead agencies for Jason-3, partnered with NASA and its French counterpart, CNES, who were responsible for Jason-1 and Jason-2, as well as the original satellite in the series, Topex-Poseidon.  The NOAA spokesman added that Jason-2, launched in 2008, continues to function nominally.

Financial analyst Chris Quilty of Raymond James & Associates said
today that he is betting on a 4-6 month delay “which shouldn’t be
tremendously impactful” to the companies whose satellites are on
SpaceX’s manifest.  Quilty is Senior Vice President, Equity Research, and
closely follows the space business. He added that if the delay is
longer than that, it “could have a material impact on 2016/2017

At a press conference yesterday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said she could not provide a timeframe for when Falcon 9 will return to flight, but confidently predicted it will be less than a year.  She said then, and the company reiterated today, that it is in an extraordinary position to identify the
problem and fix it because it owns the majority of the launch vehicle
and its components, which streamlines the investigation.  SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk tweeted that they still do not know what happened even after several thousand engineering hours of review.


SpaceX vowed today that it would examine every available piece of data to identify the root cause, fix it, and return to flight.

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