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Analysis of SpaceX’ Falcon Launch

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Wed Mar 21, 2007 10:21 pm
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After the launch of SpaceX’ Falcon 1 rocket on March 20 some questions are answered but no fewer remain open. The rocket performed successful until a roll control anomaly shut down the second stage engine after a bit over 5 minutes.

The Falcon lifted off from Omelek Island in the Pacific Ocean at 01:10 GMT after a delay due to lower than expected chamber pressure in the Merlin main engine. First stage operation was nominal and the main engine shut down after 2 minutes and 51 seconds.

At seperation the engine bell of the Kestrel engine got a bump from the interstage. How far that was a reason for the premature shutdown remains open until data analysis is complete.

Nonetheless SpaceX demonstrated several important milestones. They had a complete first stage burn and seperation of the stages. After that a successful engine start of the Kestrel upper stage engine and a second stage burn over more than two minutes. Additionally the payload fairing seperated flawlessly.

As a bonus SpaceX demonstrated a fast turn-around capability of the Falcon rocket: The first countdown attempt was halted after engine start due to too low chamber pressure in the Merlin. The launch crew managed a recycling of the countdown and successful liftoff in a little over an hour.

With this flight SpaceX gained a lot of experience as well as important data during rocket operation. That should enable them to further improve their rocket. But nonetheless they had a premature shutdown and perhaps a seperation problem.

SpaceX must now prove that they can solve the remaining problems and convert their Falcon experimental rocket into an operational one. If they succeed in this task, the path towards their Falcon 9 rocket and NASA’s COTS program will be cleared.

The International Space Fellowship will walk along the same path and provide you with the newest developments.

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