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SFS News: Falcon I launch failure thoughts - RLV News

Posted by: Rob Goldsmith - Sun Aug 03, 2008 9:27 am
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SFS News: Falcon I launch failure thoughts - RLV News 
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Post SFS News: Falcon I launch failure thoughts - RLV News   Posted on: Sun Aug 03, 2008 9:27 am
RLV News Posts:

Here are some random thoughts before bed.

This is a tough loss, especially coming after what has been a great week for NewSpace:
- White Knight Two rollout
- Successful public flights of the Rocket Racer
- Nine engine test of the Falcon 9 booster.

After the previous Falcon I flight there was celebration at SpaceX because most of the workers saw their particular subsystems perform just fine on a test flight that lasted long enough to do some testing. The failure to get a dummy payload into orbit was a disappointment but not a huge one.

This flight, though, was declared an operational flight and so is an outright failure. I'm sure the SpaceX team is devastated. Furthermore, the vehicle carried several real payloads built by people who are now feeling extremely let down.

Once the problem that caused this failure is determined, I would suggest that SpaceX just bite the bullet and allocate 2 or 3 Falcon I vehicles for test flights and fly them within a relatively short period, say six months.

[Update: From Elon's statement, it appears that they will essentially do this by proceeding to the next flights after the separation failure is understood. I suppose some of the payload owners may request a successful test flight first or a replacement guarantee of some sort.]

This would represent a $20M-$30M investment but until the Falcon I is flying reliably, SpaceX will find it very difficult to get any more commercial or government payload contracts and it won't have any chance of getting COTS D (ISS crew transport) funding. The Falcon 9 is a completely different vehicle but the Falcon I is what currently defines the company's ability, or inability, to deliver what it says it can.

It's hardly the end of the world for SpaceX. Elon recently declared that he would never give up and this failure is certainly no reason for him to change his mind. The company started from absolute zero in 2002 with no legacy hardware, no facilities and no employees and has since grown into a company with lots of in-house hardware, major facilities in several states (and the Marshall Islands) and around 500 employees. They will eventually get the Falcons to orbit.

Finally, I'll once again hail the advantages of vehicles that allow for incremental testing. I was thinking about that while waiting for tonight's launch and regretting that it should be so nerve-racking. The SS1, for example, solved many problems during a deliberate envelope expansion process. The SS2 will probably fly 200 times from the first drop test to the first passenger flight. It was no accident that the rocket racer flights this week went so flawlessly - it had flown over 20 times before it came to Oshkosh. The Lynx will in turn derive its engine from the rocket racer's and it will carry out an elaborate envelope expansion process of its own. Armadillo and Bezos are following this approach in Texas. I think we will see a similar development process for a fully reusable TSTO after these vehicles are flying routinely.

Read more here http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/

Please feel free to discuss this topic further...

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Last edited by Rob Goldsmith on Sun Aug 03, 2008 11:05 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post    Posted on: Sun Aug 03, 2008 10:48 am
Since the problem was stage separation but not something like at the first launch in 2006 the loss is a hard fate but the cause might be limited and thus quickly to find and remove because its location must be close to the region where the stages are connected or where the separation mechanisms are installed.

On the other hand it's a pity that it hasn't been found out now if the orbit would have been achieved successfully without the separation problem.

Just a remark only but not meant to be discussed here: According to the known timetable the first flight of Air Launch's QuickReach will occur in the next 7 months. If that flight is successfull Air Launch will have become a direct competitor of SpaceX because their payload weight capacity is very similar to that of SpaceX's Falcon 1.



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Post    Posted on: Sun Aug 03, 2008 11:47 am
Is there anywhere suggesting what altitude was reached?

I cant remember when this sort of info was released after the last failure, any ideas?

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Post    Posted on: Sun Aug 03, 2008 12:34 pm
Stage separation should have occured at 35 km altitude at a speed of 2.5 km/s as far as I remember.

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Post    Posted on: Sun Aug 03, 2008 3:33 pm
Launch Video
http://thelaunchpad.xprize.org/2008/08/ ... video.html

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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 05, 2008 8:50 pm
.

develop, build and launch a rocket never was/is/will be an "easy job" then some failures are inevitable in the early launches of a new vehicle, but, what I don't understand, is WHY did they put one/more TRUE satellites atop every (clearly "experimental") Falcon-1 launch BEFORE that rocket will be proven reliable for commercial and military purposes (after a good launch rate, of course) just to destroj them?

another thing unclear to me, is the confidence (the SpaceX guys still have) about their ability to SAFELY launch cargo (and, maybe, also MANNED) capsules "within 2010, max 2011" especially if we consider that, launch a bigger and multiengines rocket, is an "one order of magnitude greater" job (while, launch MANNED vehicles, is "two orders of magnitude" more complex and risky)

however, the real BIG BIG BIG problem for SpaceX isn't just the third failed launch on three launch attempts, but (most important) the (already LOST at start) COMPETITION with the second COTS contractor: Orbital Sciences Corporation

while SpaceX is a true "new.space" company born a few years ago with Musk's funds and a small team of engineers, Orbital is a 26 years old company with (nearly) one billion annual revenue, an army of very expert engineers, dozens rockets already developed and launched (including the very complex, air launched, four stages, Pegasus) LOTS of successful launches of commercial, military and scientific satellites and probes accomplished for 11 countries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_Sciences_Corporation

in other words, Orbital is 100% SURE to develop its COTS rocket, have a successful launch at its FIRST attempt, man-rate it, develop a perfectly working cargo vehicle for the ISS and (maybe) develop, build and launch a small (two astronauts) MANNED capsule BEFORE (both) the NASA Orion and the SpaceX Dragon!

personally, I think that SpaceX should completely CHANGE its industrial strategy

.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Aug 06, 2008 8:48 am
There is one point I forgot in my previous post. This seems to have been the first launch applying the Merlin 1c - this engine obviously performed well at its maiden flight which is a success in particular under the aspect that at the maiden flight of the Merlin 1a problems with a tank ocurred.

Another aspect coming to my mind is that there were no stage separation problems at the previous flight. The past both flights still applied a newly produced rocket because the previous was lost one way or the other.

So it might be that the separation problem wouldn't have ocurred if the previous first stage wouldn't have been lost. It simply might be the same phenomenon to be observed at other vehicles produced in series like cars for example. The majority of cars works well from beginning until the end of its lifetime while there are a few cars among them a few components of a re of minor or bad quality causing problems permanently.

So it may worth the pain to compare what's known about the separation systems of the previous lost Falcon 1 and the now lost Falcon 1. What has been done to produce the previous lost one might avoid separation problems if there was a difference.

This is of interest in particular because the first stage of the Falcon 1 is intended to be reusable und thus should be equipped with the better working mechanism to have a long lifetime. And the mechanism should be replaceable by an improved one. This would free from the requirment to build a complete new Falcon 1 at each improvement of the mechanism.

...
...
...



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Post    Posted on: Wed Aug 06, 2008 9:46 am
gaetanomarano wrote:
.

develop, build and launch a rocket never was/is/will be an "easy job" then some failures are inevitable in the early launches of a new vehicle, but, what I don't understand, is WHY did they put one/more TRUE satellites atop every (clearly "experimental") Falcon-1 launch BEFORE that rocket will be proven reliable for commercial and military purposes (after a good launch rate, of course) just to destroj them?

another thing unclear to me, is the confidence (the SpaceX guys still have) about their ability to SAFELY launch cargo (and, maybe, also MANNED) capsules "within 2010, max 2011" especially if we consider that, launch a bigger and multiengines rocket, is an "one order of magnitude greater" job (while, launch MANNED vehicles, is "two orders of magnitude" more complex and risky)

however, the real BIG BIG BIG problem for SpaceX isn't just the third failed launch on three launch attempts, but (most important) the (already LOST at start) COMPETITION with the second COTS contractor: Orbital Sciences Corporation

while SpaceX is a true "new.space" company born a few years ago with Musk's funds and a small team of engineers, Orbital is a 26 years old company with (nearly) one billion annual revenue, an army of very expert engineers, dozens rockets already developed and launched (including the very complex, air launched, four stages, Pegasus) LOTS of successful launches of commercial, military and scientific satellites and probes accomplished for 11 countries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_Sciences_Corporation

in other words, Orbital is 100% SURE to develop its COTS rocket, have a successful launch at its FIRST attempt, man-rate it, develop a perfectly working cargo vehicle for the ISS and (maybe) develop, build and launch a small (two astronauts) MANNED capsule BEFORE (both) the NASA Orion and the SpaceX Dragon!

personally, I think that SpaceX should completely CHANGE its industrial strategy

.


Why should orbital be 100% sure of having a successful launch at first attempt?

I think SpaceX are going about things the right way - an incremental strategy moving up to Falcon 9. I'd still say they will launch Dragon before Orbital launch anything manned. They may have more engineers at Orbital, but NASA have even more, and they take ages to do anything. Small forward thinking teams are the way to go I think - look at Armadillo. The bigger the team the more politics and bureaucracy get in the way.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Aug 06, 2008 11:29 am
Well, I can tell you politics can be a major issue even in small groups (ie. I'm right and the rest of you are idiots).

That said, I have to say (as I'll say to anyone who'll listen) start small, launch often, industrial grade.

It is good to see the degree of openness in new-space. I'm reading SpaceX's Falcon 1 payload user's guide, lots of interesting information.

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Post Re: SFS News: Falcon I launch failure thoughts - RLV News   Posted on: Thu Aug 07, 2008 12:22 am
Rob Goldsmith wrote:
Once the problem that caused this failure is determined, I would suggest that SpaceX just bite the bullet and allocate 2 or 3 Falcon I vehicles for test flights and fly them within a relatively short period, say six months.


That was a quick one. SpaceX found out what went wrong. After separation first stage hit the second one. It appears that stage separation took off too early.

As for Rob's recommendation, they are going to exactly do that:
http://www.space.com/news/080806-spacex-falcon1-update.html
I'm very happy to hear that they are going forward. On to flight 4. Yay!


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Post    Posted on: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:40 am
JamesC. wrote:
Well, I can tell you politics can be a major issue even in small groups (ie. I'm right and the rest of you are idiots).


Agreed, but easier to handle one right and five idiots, than one right and 500 idiots!!

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Post    Posted on: Thu Aug 07, 2008 11:49 am
Heh, I think it was Zhukov that said...


...quantity has its own quality.

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Post    Posted on: Sat Aug 09, 2008 11:48 am
It seems that the flight wasn't that bad except for the stage separation:

Quote:
Good Things About This Flight

Merlin 1C and overall first stage performance was excellent
The stage separation system worked properly, in that all bolts fired and the pneumatic pushers delivered the correct impulse
Second stage ignited and achieved nominal chamber pressure
Fairing separated correctly
We discovered this transient problem on Falcon 1 rather than Falcon 9
Rocket stages were integrated, rolled out and launched in seven days
Neither the near miss potential failures of flight two nor any new ones were present

(SpaceX website)

And the failure was caused by too much thrust simply:
Quote:
The problem arose due to the longer thrust decay transient of our new Merlin 1C regeneratively cooled engine, as compared to the prior flight that used our old Merlin 1A ablatively cooled engine. Unlike the ablative engine, the regen engine had unburned fuel in the cooling channels and manifold that combined with a small amount of residual oxygen to produce a small thrust that was just enough to overcome the stage separation pusher impulse.
(SpaceX website)

So the first stage seems to be more powerful than expected. Isn't this a sign that the payload weight capacity is larger?



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Post    Posted on: Sat Aug 09, 2008 12:17 pm
Whatever way you look at this, it is dreadfully dissapointing. To have a third failure, especially when there was such a delay between flights to iron out all the problems is not good.

If I were a SpaceX customer I would want to see a successful launch before commiting my payload, being financially compensated for its loss does not give you the time and effort expended back. This is particularly true when you are into consideration the competion with others and that creating a relacement payload could take years.

I dont think that SpaceX will deliver the cheap launch options that it originally promised and the launch rates do not appear to be any different to anyone else. They are looking more and more like a traditional launch company to me, still it is relatively early days and things might change yet. I think that they cant afford another failure and should one happen they will have a real credability problem, they shouldn't have put such a positive spin on the last launch failure as they gave the impression that this one would be almost routine.

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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 11, 2008 5:04 pm
Hello, Andy,

to me it seems as if the problem is limited to the circumstance that this third launch already applied the Merlin 1C. If stiil the Merline 1A would have been applied there would have been no failure perhaps since they already knew the problem of that engine to accelerate the first stage that much that it hit the second stage.

Thus they were able to handle or control that problem which they said after that earlier failure.

So this new failure may include a hidden succes or progress.

That they didn't apply the Merlin 1A may have to do with their issue that the solution that might avoid to hit the second stage increases the risk of an explosion.

It seems that regarding the Merlin 1C such a risk does not exist or that this time an alternative solution exists that is nearly riskless.

So while the failure is hard to bear there is something that can be taken as a progress despite of the disappointment. Nobody could know of the problem of this new engine.

What about it?



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