Did One of Falcon 9’s Engines Explode? Video Shows Debris

This video shows something serious happening to one of the Falcon 9’s engines. Engine 1 seems to have suffered a “rapid unscheduled dis-assembly” — i.e., it blew up. The other 8 engines burned longer than planned to put Dragon into orbit. The anomaly occurred at 1 minute and 20 seconds into the flight.

I’m told that the engines have Kevlar around them to prevent the turbine blades, which are spinning at 30,000 RPM, from slicing into the other engines if they fail. That may have saved the flight. In this case, it looks like the entire engine blew up.

SpaceX Founder Elon Musk and President Gwynne Shotwell confirmed that an anomaly occurred and the engine was shut down early. But, they did not provide any details.

UPDATE: SpaceX has released the following statement:

“Falcon 9 detected an anomaly on one of the nine engines and shut it down. As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in realtime to reach the target orbit, which is why the burn times were a bit longer. Like Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, the Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine flameout and still complete its mission. I believe F9 is the only rocket flying today that, like a modern airliner, is capable of completing a flight successfully even after losing an engine. There was no effect on Dragon or the Space Station resupply mission.”

  • warshawski

    Even with an engine failure Falcon 9 completed the mission, much like the Delta 4 low engine thrust the redundancy and margines of Falcon 9 allowed it to complete the mission. This is another reason why re-usability is important as being able to recover the rocket would provide valuable information on what went wrong. That way improvements can be made so it does not happen again.
    Great that Falcon 9 completed the mission, not good that an engine failed but on the bright side it proved the engine out capability.

  • paul

    If you shut down and engine in the atmosphere at max q the bell might shatter from aerodynamic stress. The central high pressure of the exhaust is removed, leaving the asymmetrical pressure of the atmosphere rushing past.

    Or.. space is using weasel words. Yeah, it was commanded to shut down… After it had exploded!

  • Paul451

    No just “engine out”, but engine detonation. Not only didn’t destroy the other engines, it didn’t even require any other engine to be shut down due to damage. Impressive.

    Aside: Is this the same engine they’ve had trouble with before. Ie, one of the corner engines, at Max-Q. In which case, will the Merlin 1-D ring configuration solve the problem?

  • Andrew Platzer

    To me, it’s just as likely that the computer detected a problem, perhaps something as simple as something slightly out of range, and shut down the engine. The resulting vacuum as the thrust went to zero very quickly could cause the nozzle, which was designed to hold in pressure, not keep it out, to implode. In that case the debris would exit down the centre line of the engine and not affect the other ones. Hopefully they modeled this and the debris was expected. Regardless I’m sure Elon is very happy they made the right choice when they went with a 9 engine system now that they have a failure rate of 1/40 on the M1C.

  • Shepard

    Yeah that was definatly an explosion and debris falling out of the engine. When I was watching this I thought I saw this and checked later to make sure it actually happened. But they really built these engines strong because that was a pretty big explosion and it just continued on with the mission like nothing happened.

  • flamesholder

    Well, it seems that Falcon 9 is like the B-17 bomber, it can take a beating, but it refuses to fall out of the sky. This only shows how robust the design is.

  • Anonymous

    Regardless of the anomaly, SpaceX achieved the (initial) mission objective. The multi-engine approach self-validated and I’m confident that, even though the booster is not reusable, the SpaceX engineers will be able to reconstruct the problem from the telemetry. Kudos to Elon, Gwynne and the SpaceX team. They are doing themselves and commercial space proud.

  • Coastal Ron

    I think “paul” may be on to what we saw – the engine bell breaking off after shutdown.

  • aaron

    This is what i call a Kerbal Space Program moment

  • PLB

    Kerbal Space Program called, they want they’re unwanted unexpected unnecessary decoupling back.