The inagural launch of Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 1 rocket has ended with the loss of the vehicle. A fuel leak appears to have caused a fire that burned through part of the helium pneumatic system, causing the first stage engine to shut down prematurely and the rocket to crash into the ocean.
Given that about 50 per cent of first launches of new rockets end in failure, there was always a chance that this would happen. Our sympathies are with the SpaceX team, who have worked so hard to reach this point. I’m sure that once they have had time to gather their thoughts, they will press on, learn what they need to learn, and fly again.
Sunday 26 March
Friday 24 March, 3:30 pm PST, 11:30 am Kwaj time
“We had a successful liftoff and Falcon made it well clear of the launch pad, but unfortunately the vehicle was lost later in the first stage burn. More information will be posted once we have had time to analyze the problem.
Friday 24 March, 2:46 pm PST, 10:46 am Kwaj time
“Clearly this is a setback. But we are in this for the long haul. We will proceed with follow-up information as we learn it.” – Gwyenne Shotwell, vice president of business development.
Friday 24 March, 2:41 pm PST, 10:41 am Kwaj time
Gwynne Shotwell of SpaceX just announced “We did lose the vehicle. ” She has no more information at this point, and the media teleconference has been ended early.
Liftoff of Falcon 1.
The view from a camera on the launch vehicle, just seconds before it was lost.
Friday 24 March, 2:40 pm PST, 10:40 am Kwaj time
LOSS OF VEHICLE! No details yet, but it looks like the launch has failed.
Friday 24 March, 2:32 pm PST, 10:32 am Kwaj time
And we have lost the video feed from Kwajelien, frustratingly. More to come.
Friday 24 March, 2:30 pm PST, 10:30 am Kwaj time
LIFTOFF! Falcon 1 is away!
Friday 24 March, 2:29 pm PST, 10:29 am Kwaj time
T-1 autosequence start.
Friday 24 March, 2:27 pm PST, 10:27 am Kwaj time
T-3 minutes and counting. The water deluge system and flight termination systems are ready for launch.
Friday 24 March, 2:25 pm PST, 10:25 am Kwaj time
T-5 minutes and counting. Final launch preparations are under way. Everything remains GO for launch.
Friday 24 March, 2:20 pm PST, 10:20 am Kwaj time
T-10 minutes and counting. The launch director has polled his team and everything is GO for launch.
Friday 24 March, 2:18 pm PST, 10:18 am Kwaj time
T-12 minutes. The strongback is being retracted.
Friday 24 March, 2:15 pm PST, 10:15 am Kwaj time
T-15 minutes. All propellant loading is complete. Winds are green. Range is green.
Friday 24 March, 2:10 pm PST, 10:10 am Kwaj time
Coming up on T-20 minutes. The countdown continues.
Friday 24 March, 2:05 pm PST, 10:05 am Kwaj time
T-25 minutes and counting. Everything is proceeding smoothly at this point. The recovery ship is now is a safe position, and ground winds well within limits. Target orbit for this launch is a 400x500km ellipse. LOX and fuel loading is nearly complete.
If you have any questions for us to put to the SpaceX team on the media teleconference, leave a comment here, and we’ll pass them on when we get the chance.
Friday 24 March, 1:50 pm PST, 9:50 am Kwaj time
T-40 minutes and counting. You can see gaseous oxygen venting from relief valves on both the first and second stages as liquid oxygen continues to be loaded, in this frame capture from the webcast:
Friday 24 March, 1:43 pm PST, 9:43 am Kwaj time
As we near the launch of the first Falcon 1, SpaceX are proceeding apace with the development of the much larger Falcon 9 rocket. Fabrication of the prototype rocket is under way, with ‘hardware on the floor.’ Engines for the Falcon 9 are in production, with the first hold down firing test at their facility in Texas anticipated for Q-3 of this year.
The Pad crew have reported in that they are all safely located on Meck island, their fallback position for the launch.
Coming up on T-45 minutes.
Friday 24 March, 1:38 pm PST, 9:38 am Kwaj time
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX VP for Business Development, is explaining that the recovery ship went to the wrong safe zone, because of a miscommunication.
She says that there have been a number of ‘lessons learnt’ getting to this point:
“We have learned a lot about operating this vehicle. Most holds and scrubs have just been learning how to handle the vehicle, since liquid fuel is much harder to deal with than solid fuel. LOX has been the major learning curve.”
Elon Musk has just given a quick update of the current situation: LOX tanking is ongoing, the ISS COLA window has passed, and all systems are GO for launch, and the range is green.
Friday 24 March, 1:30 pm PST, 9:30 am Kwaj time
Now at T-60 minutes to launch and counting. Everything proceeding smoothly at this time.
Friday 24 March, 1:22 pm PST, 9:22 am Kwaj time
Liquid oxygen tanking is now under way.
The launch control room at Kwajalien atoll.
Friday 24 March, 1:20 pm PST, 9:20 am Kwaj time
Waiting for confirmation that the island is clear of all personnel – a safety requirement for the beginning of LOX and fuel tanking procedures.
Friday 24 March, 1:15 pm PST, 9:15 am Kwaj time
T-75 minutes AND COUNTING. The countdown has resumed.
Friday 24 March, 1:15 pm PST, 9:15 am Kwaj time
The restart of the count has been carefully timed to avoid a collision avoidance blackout in the launch window required to keep the rocket from coming too close to the International Space Station
Friday 24 March, 1:13 pm PST, 9:13 am Kwaj time
The pad crew are now leaving the launch site area, retreating to a safe fallback position on a separate island for the remainder of the count.
Two minutes to the end of the hold.
Friday 24 March, 1:08 pm PST, 9:08 am Kwaj time
The launch team is preparing to pick up the count, opening helium pressurant valves in preparation for resuming liquid oxygen loading. Some liquid oxygen was bled off during the hold to keep the LOX pressure stable.
Friday 24 March, 12:58 pm PST, 8:48 am Kwaj time
Still holding, but the count will resume at 21:15 GMT, 1:15 pm PST, 9:15 Kwaj time. The count will pick up at T-75 minutes, for a liftoff time of 22:30 GMT, 2:30 PST, 10:30 Kwaj time.
Friday 24 March, 12:46 pm PST, 8:46 am Kwaj time
Forty-two minutes now into this unplanned hold, as we wait for the first stage recovery ship to be repositioned outside the launch danger zone. Still no word on when the count might resume.
Friday 24 March, 12:36 pm PST, 8:36 am Kwaj time
Now thirty-two minutes into the unplanned hold. Efforts to reposition the recovery boat are ongoing.
(well they are referring to it as a boat, it looks a little bigger than that to me!)
Friday 24 March, 12:31 pm PST, 8:31 am Kwaj time
Several changes have been made to the Falcon since the first launch attempt. Both the the first and second stage fuel tanks have been swapped out, some avionics have been moved, and a thermal blanket has been added to cover the first stage LOX tank. This prevents excess oxidiser boil-off due to Kwajalein’s warm winds. The blanket is attached via VelcroÂ® straps and is connected to the launch pad so it will easily pull away during launch.
Friday 24 March, 12:26 pm PST, 8:26 am Kwaj time
25 minutes into the unplanned hold. The recovery ship is moving out of the impact limit lines danger area. Winds at the launch site have dynamically change the launch danger zone, as the rocket first stage can drift further on the wind under parachute. So the recovery ship may not have strayed into the danger zone – the zone may have expanded out to meet it.
Friday 24 March, 12:23 pm PST, 8:23am Kwaj time
With the exception of the recovery ship straying into the launch danger area, everything so far has proceeded smoothly with today’s count.
Friday 24 March, 12:14 pm PST, 8:14am Kwaj time
The current unplanned hold has occurred because of a boat straying into the range safety zone. Ironically, the boat is the one standing by to recover the first stage after the flight.
Friday 24 March, 12:05 pm PST, 8:05am Kwaj time
The clock is currently holding at T-1 hour 4 minutes, while the launch team evaluates an ‘impact limit line’ issue. When they come out of the hold, the count will be recycled to T-1 hour 15 minutes.
Friday 24 March, 11:53 am PST, 7:53am Kwaj time
No word yet on the hold call we heard earlier.
Friday 24 March, 11:49 am PST, 7:49am Kwaj time
HOLD! The Launch Conductor has announced a hold in the count. No reason given at this time.
Friday 24 March, 11:46 am PST, 7:46am Kwaj time
Preparations for this morning’s historic launch contine. If you don’t have access to the webcast available here, this is what things are looking like at the launch site right now:
Friday 24 March, 11:38 am PST, 7:38am Kwaj time
The launch team is now testing the C-Band communication with the rocket. We have passed T-90 minutes and counting. No indications of any problem with the launch this morning.
Friday 24 March, 11:29 am PST, 7:29am Kwaj time
FTS testing is still under way. About five minutes away now from T-90 minutes in the count.
Friday 24 March, 11:15 am PST, 7:15am Kwaj time
The launch team is currently checking the flight termination system, which allows a ground controller to shut off the propulsion system should the rocket deviate from its nominal trajectory. Falcon’s FTS system is unusual in that it shuts down the engines, rather than using explosive charges to blow up the vehicle.
Friday 24 March, 11:107am PST, 7:10am Kwaj time
Tests of the rocket’s flight termination system will begin shortly.
Friday 24 March, 11:07am PST, 7:07am Kwaj time
The countdown has just passed the two hour mark. Launch time this morning is targeted for 1:05pm PST. The launch team have just completed a weather briefing. Ground winds are not a constraint for launch this morning.
Friday 24 March, 10:40am PST
We have just received confirmation from Dianne Molina at SpaceX that today’s Falcon 1 launch is going ahead. More soon.
Friday 24 March, 9:38am PST
No word from SpaceX yet on the status of today’s launch. If they are still aiming for a 1pm PST launch, the rocket should be in the process of final pad preparations now, with helium pressurant fill and chill under way. The next major event in the countdown timeline comes about an hour from now at T-2 hours, with the beginning of the countdown proper, and tests of the flight termination system and radio frequency communications with the rocket.