SpaceX “Explosion” Video Suggests One Possible Cause

Some details regarding yesterday’s mishap with a three engine F9R in Texas are beginning to emerge. Local news media posted a video to Youtube, which although shot at a distance, appears to show the F9-R make a normal ascent, begin a translation maneuver, and then pitch over to a clearly excessive degree prior to the explosion which follows.

Furthermore, in carefully parsing SpaceX statements made after the incident, it appears likely that rather than “exploding” due to a malfunction, the test article was terminated by an auto destruct command. As with any speculation, that conclusion is open to interpretation and could change with new facts.

As for the purpose of the test itself, given that the vehicle was a three engine variant with deployable legs and not the now retired Grasshopper, it seems reasonable to assume that SpaceX was making low altitude trials of the type of pitch maneuver which will ultimately need to be performed at altitude in order to execute a “flyback” to land.

One clue may reside in the outcome of Tuesday’s planned launch of AsiaSat 6 from Cape Canaveral. If the failure did occur due to excessive pitch and loss of stability, it should not have any effect on the timing of the impending launch. On the other hand, if it was an actual hardware failure involving the Merlin 1-D engines or propellant supply, then the launch will almost certainly be delayed for quite some time.

Also worth noting if for trivia value only, Elon Musk was present for the test. If it had gone as planned, it is almost certain that SpaceX would have released the much happier video in the hours before Tuesday’s flight.

Updates as they become available

Posted in: SpaceX

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2 Comments on "SpaceX “Explosion” Video Suggests One Possible Cause"

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  1. I fully agree with this analysis. They were pushing the envelope for pitch translation and the rocket was about to leave the boundaries of allowed airspace. One would think it should be SOP to include autodestruct parameters in the flight software under those conditions, to prevent loss of life or property.

  2. Ben Reytblat says:

    I wonder if the pitch deviation was caused by excessive propellant slosh….

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