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SpaceX booster explodes in test flight

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August 23, 2014

An FR9 test rocket awaiting flight

An FR9 test rocket awaiting flight

SpaceX gave a dramatic demonstration on Friday of why spacecraft undergo such thorough testing. At its testing ground at McGregor, Texas, a SpaceX Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle 1 (F9R Dev 1) exploded in midair during a test flight. Nearby residents saw the fireball and local television station KXXV caught the incident on video. Elon Musk tweeted that the vehicle "auto-terminated," but there were no injuries or near-injuries, and that “Rockets are tricky …”

Following the incident, SpaceX released a statement saying:

"Earlier today, in McGregor, Texas, SpaceX conducted a test flight of a three engine version of the F9R test vehicle (successor to Grasshopper). During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission.

Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.

With research and development projects, detecting vehicle anomalies during the testing is the purpose of the program. Today's test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.

SpaceX will provide another update when the flight data has been fully analyzed."

The F9R Dev 1 is a second-generation test vehicle rocket based on the SpaceX Grasshopper. Built as part of SpaceX’s program to develop a fully reusable launcher system and spacecraft with all components capable of a powered landing, the F9R has lighter, retractable landing legs and is 50 percent longer than the Grasshopper. It made its first flight last April and is capable of flight operations up to 10,000 ft (3,000 m).

Sources: SpaceX, KXXV

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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6 Comments

In other words, this is expected as they test their system to points of failure, so they know what to expect in the event of future problems. They're doing a good job!

Onihikage
24th August, 2014 @ 11:21 am PDT

It was a successful test. Once SaceX parses the data they will be aware of the system that requires further engineering to meet the demanding end use of the device.

An unsuccessful test would have been putting it into production and blowing up a customer payload or crew without conducting these tests in the way that NASA and the ULA have done in the past.

VirtualGathis
25th August, 2014 @ 09:42 am PDT

Puzzling why such a brilliant corporation would resort to stiff NewSpeak babble. Everyone born after 1940 has a fully functioning bullshit detector and can translate that immediately into "it screwed up, and we blew it to bits before it dashed off and hurt somebody". The "flight termination system automatically terminated the mission" sounds much more sinister.

Bill Babcock
25th August, 2014 @ 11:29 am PDT

All rockets are potential exploders. It is the nature of the beast. If it can be figured out what the problem was and then fixed, so much the better.

To paraphrase a quote I heard a long time ago; "Pioneering is finding new and unusual ways to die."

Testing is the only way to find out what the problems are and try and fix them. Or as known in engineering circles - Trying to out wit Murphy.

Jerry Odom
25th August, 2014 @ 03:43 pm PDT

>The "flight termination system automatically terminated the mission"

>sounds much more sinister.

Yeah, it makes you wonder why terminating the mission would involve exploding rather than landing. If something goes wrong with my car the "check engine" light comes on; it doesn't feed a spark into the fuel tank and ignite the vehicle. :-)

alcalde
25th August, 2014 @ 04:56 pm PDT

Rather than design a reusable test vehicle to self destruct at the first sign of a problem, why not have it attempt to land if at all possible?

They have a huge amount of open space, should be able to program it to have multiple landing abort attempt locations and to only go kaboom if it is headed for something they don't want to be hit by a rocket.

Test pilots used to do everything they could to bring experimental aircraft back when there was a problem, knowing it would be far easier to figure out what went wrong in an intact airplane VS a scattered pile of smoking wreckage, also much less expensive.

Then there's the other end of things, the "Hey, that's not right! Oh well, fly it anyway!" method. Some years ago, Armadillo Aerospace transported one of their low altitude engine test units to the range for what was intended to be its final flight. Driving down the bumpy road jarred loose the catalyst rings (it used high percentage hydrogen peroxide) and some fell out through the nozzle.

Did they go "Well, crap, we have to fix that before we fly it."? Nope! They launched it anyway, the loose rings jammed the nozzle throat and it exploded, completely trashing an expensive test rig that could have had parts re-used for the next phase of development. But hey, it was just John Carmack's money, he had plenty more...

Rockets designed to explode when there's any problem, and rockets that explode because their builders ignore a problem.

Somewhere in the middle is where commercial spaceflight needs to be.

Gregg Eshelman
25th August, 2014 @ 09:21 pm PDT
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