SpaceX: Protective Fairing Reptured After Engine Shutdown

Debris from the rupture of a Falcon 9 engine fairing during the Oct. 7 launch.

A mission update from SpaceX:

The Dragon spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station this morning and is performing nominally following the launch of the SpaceX CRS-1 official cargo resupply mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:35PM ET Sunday, October 7, 2012.

Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event.

As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission.

Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission.

We will continue to review all flight data in order to understand the cause of the anomaly, and will devote the resources necessary to identify the problem and apply those lessons to future flights. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

Dragon is expected to begin its approach to the station on October 10, where it will be grappled and berthed by Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Expedition 33 Commander Sunita Williams of NASA. Over the following weeks, the crew will unload Dragon’s payload and reload it with cargo to be returned to Earth. Splashdown is targeted for October 28.

  • Bojan Pecnik

    Nominal orbit insertion after an engine-out at MaxQ is, IMHO, one of the biggest SpaceX achievements thus far. It proves the robustness of the system and its ability to react appropriately in the unexpected situations.

    Hats off, gentlemen, you deserve it!

    p.s. I wonder if they will figure out a way to test for MaxQ loads after this incident.. Actually, I’m just not sure how will they do it.

  • I think this will increase the value of that zero cost CCiCAP engine upgrade milestone. SpaceX will have lots of valuable lessons learned to roll in to their new rev. There’s no substitute for flight experience.

  • It is rare to have an engine failure and hence reveal an area that needs more work without loosing the mission. This reveals one of the advantages of engine-out capability not just for mission assurance but also for refining the system. This makes 36+ real-world engine usage. So they are getting a lot of experience with their Merlin engines.

  • Rick Lyon

    Failure is always the best teacher. In this case failure is proof of their success and safety factor. Wish I was 30 years younger so I could go work for Spacex.

  • I’m trying to understand why the fairing broke apart, it sounds like it needs the engine it’s protecting to be on in order to maintain structural integrity, but maybe it was the transient conditions of the shutdown that lead to the failure? Any thoughts?

  • Anonymous

    A suggestion to upgrade the Merlin to another thrust level to reduce the number of engines on the Falcon 9 for reliability:

    Re: On the lasting importance of the SpaceX accomplishment.

    Bob Clark