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Another ‘Successful Failure’ for SpaceX

The vessel's excellent team overcame a mid-flight glitch and completed the mission.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

March 5, 2013 - 7:31 am
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Last fall’s engine failure
 indicated a potential problem with the Merlin 1C engine design or procedures, but validated the designed ability of the vehicle to complete its mission with engine out. Unfortunately, that particular lesson had a short shelf life — Friday’s flight was the last for that version. All Falcon 9s going forward will be larger, with more powerful and simple (and presumably reliable) Merlin 1D engines with more performance. But the general knowledge will be carried forward into that vehicle, and it will be a good gradual evolution from the early successful version.

This latest glitch not only pointed out a potential issue for the Dragon, but demonstrated once again (as had been seen in the rapid turnarounds on the pad after aborts on previous flights) the team’s ability to quickly diagnose and to make decisions to ensure ultimate mission success. If the current theory of the cause of the problem is correct, it may also result in a change in either design or processing procedures to ensure that propellant temperatures don’t get out of spec. Either way, the company has once again demonstrated the robustness of their designs and operations, building on the lessons learned from their many early failed launch attempts of the Falcon 1 which eventually resulted in a successful vehicle.

This will likely give NASA continued confidence going forward that they will ultimately, perhaps within two or three years, be able to safely deliver the agency’s astronauts to and from orbit and finally eliminate our dependence on the Russians.

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Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.

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All Comments   (7)
All Comments   (7)
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From the pages of the old science fiction pulps to an actual headline. Well done America.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I just love all these private space companies. It's about time. Per aspera ad astra!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And that's how things should be designed and run, in such a way that problems can be overcome or even can be shrugged off because of redundant systems.

No blowing up spacecraft because a single rubber sealing ring was a few degrees too cold...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Elon Musk is the Henry Ford of outer space. SpaceX's vehicles were meant to be robust, so that glitches don't scratch a mission. That and the likelyhood that SpaceX will dramatically lower the cost of doing business in space are the bright spots in a desultory era for space exploration.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And as you well know, Rand, we learn oh so much more from our failures than our successes.

Go SpaceX!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Look at SpaceX's "Reusability Designs" video, then go read G. Harry Stine's "Halfway to Anywhere." All Falcon 9s going forward will be larger, with more powerful and simple (and presumably reliable) Merlin 1D engines with more performance.... The new Merlins are a step forward towards the requirements for a fully reusable launch system, giving the thrust necessary to carry the small additional fuel required for landing the stage after launch.

A fully reusable launch vehicle will drop cost-to-orbit significantly, and make possible the dreams of other entrepreneurs like Dennis Tito (private Mars missio) and Robert Bigelow (private space stations).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Per aspera ad astra
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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