Saturday, September 3, 2016

SpaceX Picks Up the Pieces

Click the arrow to watch WESH-TV Channel 2 Orlando's raw feed of the SpaceX fire. The audio is largely silent. Original video source: WESH-TV Facebook page.

Click the arrow to watch WFTV-TV Channel 9 Orlando's raw feed of the SpaceX fire. Audio commentary begins at the 6:40 minute mark. Original video source: WFTV-TV Facebook page.

The smoke and flame are gone at Cape Canaveral's Pad 40.

For SpaceX, the damage from its second accident in fourteen months will linger much longer.

SpaceX now has an official web page for updates. They refer to the incident as an “anomaly.”

This statement was issued yesterday at 6:45pm EDT:

SpaceX has begun the careful and deliberate process of understanding the causes and fixes for yesterday's incident. We will continue to provide regular updates on our progress and findings, to the fullest extent we can share publicly.

We deeply regret the loss of AMOS-6, and safely and reliably returning to flight to meet the demands of our customers is our chief priority. SpaceX's business is robust, with approximately 70 missions on our manifest worth over $10 billion. In the aftermath of yesterday's events, we are grateful for the continued support and unwavering confidence that our commercial customers as well as NASA and the United States Air Force have placed in us.

Overview of the incident:

— Yesterday, at SpaceX's Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an anomaly took place about eight minutes in advance of a scheduled test firing of a Falcon 9 rocket.

— The anomaly on the pad resulted in the loss of the vehicle.

— This was part of a standard pre-launch static fire to demonstrate the health of the vehicle prior to an eventual launch.

— At the time of the loss, the launch vehicle was vertical and in the process of being fueled for the test. At this time, the data indicates the anomaly originated around the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad. There were no injuries.

To identify the root cause of the anomaly, SpaceX began its investigation immediately after the loss, consistent with accident investigation plans prepared for such a contingency. These plans include the preservation of all possible evidence and the assembly of an Accident Investigation Team, with oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration and participation by NASA, the United States Air Force and other industry experts. We are currently in the early process of reviewing approximately 3000 channels of telemetry and video data covering a time period of just 35-55 milliseconds/

As for the Launch Pad itself, our teams are now investigating the status of SLC-40. The pad clearly incurred damage, but the scope has yet to be fully determined. We will share more data as it becomes available. SpaceX currently operates 3 launch pads — 2 in Florida and 1 in California at Vandenberg Air Force Base. SpaceX's other launch sites were not affected by yesterday's events. Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base is in the final stages of an operational upgrade and Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center remains on schedule to be operational in November. Both pads are capable of supporting Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. We are confident the two launch pads can support our return to flight and fulfill our upcoming manifest needs.

Again, our number one priority is to safely and reliably return to flight for our customers, as well as to take all the necessary steps to ensure the highest possible levels of safety for future crewed missions with the Falcon 9. We will carefully and thoroughly investigate and address this issue.

Launches can't simply move from the Cape to Vandenberg. For safety, prograde orbits — those that launch with the rotation of Earth — are from the Cape. They go over the ocean in case of an “anomaly.” When SpaceX CRS-7 blew up on June 28, 2015, 2½ minutes after launch, the pieces fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Polar orbits launch from Vandenberg for the same reason. If a rocket explodes, it falls into the Pacific Ocean. Vandenberg can't be used for a prograde orbit because the rocket would have to pass over populated land.

The above statement claims that Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A will be “operational in November,” but SpaceX timelines have proven in the past to be notoriously optimistic. Some work projected for earlier this year has yet to begin. SpaceX had said they would remove the old Space Shuttle Rotating Service Structure, but it's still in place. A large yellow crane lies on the ground nearby, waiting to lift the Shuttle era's lightning mast so an overhead crane can be installed for intergrating vertical payloads on the pad when required by a customer.

SpaceX prograde orbit launches could move to KSC's Pad 39A — when operational. But it would seem prudent to identify a cause of the “anomaly” before attempting any more Falcon 9 launches.

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