Falcon 9 Investigation Takes Strange Turn

Credit: Paramount Pictures
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Good news for conspiracy buffs who have been speculating over the past month about what caused a Falcon 9 to catch fire and explode at Cape Canaveral.

The long-running feud between Elon Musk’s space company and its fierce competitor United Launch Alliance took a bizarre twist this month when a SpaceX employee visited its facilities at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and asked for access to the roof of one of ULA’s buildings.

About two weeks earlier, one of SpaceX’s rockets blew up on a launchpad while it was awaiting an engine test. As part of the investigation, SpaceX officials had come across something suspicious they wanted to check out, according to three industry officials with knowledge of the episode. SpaceX had still images from video that appeared to show an odd shadow, then a white spot on the roof of a nearby building belonging to ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The SpaceX representative explained to the ULA officials on site that it was trying to run down all possible leads in what was a cordial, not accusatory, encounter, according to the industry sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

The building, which had been used to refurbish rocket motors known as the SMARF, is just more than a mile away from the launchpad and has a clear line of sight to it. A representative from ULA ultimately denied the SpaceX employee access to the roof and instead called Air Force investigators, who inspected the roof and didn’t find anything connecting it to the rocket explosion, the officials said.

So what would we call this? A firexplotage?

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51 thoughts on “Falcon 9 Investigation Takes Strange Turn

  1. Creating a dolchstoss myth for when Musk’s Mars fantasy inevitably comes
    crashing down. We COULD have had a colony, but draconian forces stopped

  2. One Interesting thing from Musks Mars plans was that the rocket would use combustion gases instead of helium for tank pressure. They might use that on F9. I think they mean to tap the engine combustion chamber, cool the gas and pressurize the kerosene tank. A check valve to keep pressure for a restart. Take awhile to convert though. May be a first. This is done on ships and airplanes. I have never heard of it being done on a rocket.

  3. The average molecular weight and volatility of RP-1 kerosene is inadequate for autogenous pressurization. It’s too viscous and it’s vapor pressure is too low.

    It would only really work well with simple cryogenic molecules, sorry.

  4. We COULD have had a colony, but draconian forces stopped

    It’s always the Lizard People.

  5. I think it makes sense, too, but I don’t blame ULA. It isn’t a crazy conspiracy theory to admit the possibility of a sniper, when they were launching an Israeli satellite. The distance is well within range of any decent rifle. It would be nice to review security camera footage – if any.

    Let us all not be naive. It is very easy to get away with things like this possibility when people don’t believe that there are bad actors who do bad things. Israel’s enemies are among the most fanatic enemies any country in the world has to put up with.

  6. No, it is not planed to use combustion gases for ITS tank pressurization . Propellant will be vaporized in a heat exchanger, which is attached to engine nozzle.

  7. Helium is such a great pressurant because it has such a radically low boiling point as compared to LOX. Dumping gaseous helium into a super chilled LOX tank won’t cause any of the helium to condense into a liquid. Also its 10,000 to one volume expansion from liquid to gas means you don’t need a lot to pressurize a tank. It also means your helium can do something that looks a lot like an explosion. The problem with putting GOX into a LOX tank, or GCH4 into a LCH4 tank is that hot gas will chill, and not a little bit will re-condense. Complicating it further, there will be a time lag for hot propellant to dump heat into chilled propellant and for the associated phase changes to occur between chilled and hot propellant. If you put combustion product into the tank then you have to deal with water ice, CO2 ice etc in the LOX tank. Nitrogen’s boiling point is very close to LOX’s boiling point. None of this easy.

  8. A comment I posted to an article appearing within The Space Review seems relevant here;

    2 weeks ago @ The Space Review: essa… – The Space Review: A ta… · 1 reply · +1 points

    “Hi, Fred. I’m no rocket scientist/technician, but, it seems to me that the loading of super chilled oxidant would be quite a “noisy” affair and cause material movement by way of pressure and temperature change effects. I saw Musk’s tweet and what concerns me is the length of time it is taking to arrive at the probable cause(s) of this event, in spite of the wealth of data available. We will know if they are seriously considering sabotage if/when they call in ballistic/sniping experts and start looking for the possible areas where the shot(s) were taken and where the spent ordinance would have come to rest. Regards, Paul.

    PS. That payload came with a lot of political/financial “baggage”, so I can understand why, at this stage, nothing can or should be ruled out.”

    Starting to read more and more like a Tom Clancy novel.

  9. The problem with this sort of thinking is you can go into paranoid circles forever. Governments are made up of semi-independent cadres of PEOPLE who have their own agenda. Sometimes they go way off the reservation. Sometimes the reservation goes way off. These groups are also very paranoid, and have their own set of conspiracy cannon as we have seen with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring. Anyone who has done the exercise of looking at a group like The Heritage Foundation’s history of making claims of Soviet weaponry capabilities and then compared that to what came out of the Cold War will get a very good idea of what group-think and an agenda will do smart and powerful people.

    Then, there’s this gem. Operation Northwoods came from the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was rejected by the office of the president. So we know these things are proposed, accepted and denied. But they come with a footprint. You can see these sorts of things play out. And eventually, you get a Snowden, or Manning, and the beans get spilled. Complicating it further is when just plain stupidity or good intent cause a bad thing to happen that fits into someone’s agenda. Just because an event feeds a interest groups agenda, does not mean they had agency in the event.

    Governments do things like Northwoods, and there are accidents, and without direct evidence they might be hard to distinguish between the two. In this case we know Space X has had problems with their helium pressurization system. Without direct evidence of sabotage you have to go with the hard information. Which is easier to believe? A faulty helium system, or a government intent on having yet another flight termination system? They already have a uniformed officer’s finger poised over the FTS button. If you allow yourself to be drawn to a conclusion based on a lack of information, and the bad intentions of your opposition, or worse yet even your belief in their bad intention, you’re going to be driven to paranoia. Yes, there are Gary 7’s out there. Did a ‘Gary’ do this? We have no evidence thus far. If it was, then Space X is going to have to start flying blind to the problem. However it seems they are already willing to do that if you think it’s not a ‘Gary’ but a faulty helium system instead. Space X apparently has, and by their statements already are, willing to fly without fully understanding and applying a fix to this problem. So in the end, you fly in ignorance anyway, and hope you find out more later.

  10. I don’t see it that way at all. SpaceX said directly they were just covering all the bases, and that is just the right thing to do. I’m not at all thinking “conspiracy theory”, I’m thinking relatively lone person with a rifle who hates Israel. It’s not as though we lack examples of similar events. There’s absolutely nothing whatever paranoid about it, it’s just one possibility that must be considered among many, as long as there is no hard evidence to point another direction. I don’t expect them to find any more evidence than the blip on the video, but they have to eliminate or at least mitigate the possibility.

    Somebody picked up a gun and shot JFK. Nobody predicted that. The conspiracy theories got spun later.

    They’re designing the helium system out of future rockets, and this is a good idea. Please don’t accuse me of coming to a conclusion, the truth is the opposite. This is a wide-open investigation of a very odd and unexpected event that has left very little evidence as to the cause. We all may have to expect that it may never be known for certain what happened, and we may have to wait for another event to prove anything. Hopefully SpaceX will install more (high speed) cameras in the future. No possible point of failure should escape monitoring.

  11. It would be nice to know the location of the US Launch Report video camera. Then one could calculate the distance of the ‘bang’ and see if it matches the ULA site. As for me, there’s way too much risk and lack of reason for a sniper to choose the top of the ULA building. The rocket is tall, the ground flat, and why shoot from one’s property when there’s so much public, unsecured area nearby?

  12. Wait. Washington Post which is owned by Bezos runs an article about Blue Origins’ partner ULA sabotaging SpaceX.

    Get your tinfoil hats out!!

    In all seriousness though, the notion that this could be sabotage is ludicrous. I know that SpaceX have tweeted about getting audio-photo or videos from the public about this. I also know that Elon has tweeted that they have not ruled out an external factor yet.

    But, that does not mean they think there was sabotage, or that a sabotage was likely. They simply HAVE to investigate every lead on the fault tree, and it is rather upsetting that this simple fact leads to conspiracy speculation.. T_T

  13. I has been many years since I’ve seen that episode, so I don’t remember the rocket changing in flight. However, it was very common back in the day for rockets and airplanes to change in flight. They just spliced in whatever file footage was available, figuring no one would notice or care. As an example, the movie “Midway” was filled with changing and incorrect aircraft. I still see incorrect aircraft used in documentaries produced this year.

  14. But the space shuttle used cryogenic fuel (LH).

    I think that is the first time that will be used the rocket’s own non-cryogenic propellant to pressurize the tank. Or I’m wrong?

  15. Because Bezos is peddling the same newspace KoolAid as Musk and they need some kind of story to cover them when it becomes more apparent that their hobby rockets are no match for the rocket equation. Cheap reusability is a myth. There is no such thing as cheap.

  16. How hard would it be to recover every single piece of wreckage from the explosion? A bullet breaching the tank from the outside would leave a different mark than a normal explosion due to overpressure.

  17. If his tales from other forums are to be believed, he has the skills to do it. Didn’t you know he’s a secret Special Forces operator AND a private investigator, all the while pretending to be a mild mannered Coast Guard petty officer.

  18. Well, the little bits are spread out over a gigantic area, so it will be very hard indeed – but yes, that’s how it’s done. The edges would be turned in rather than turned out.

    Maybe they’ll get lucky, but unless they get all the little bits and can reassemble the entire structure, it unfortunately cannot be ruled out. I really would hate to be management (or owner) at SpaceX at this time.

  19. Yes. Do u know that Google maps is not live and u most likely will not get a pic of that timeframe.

  20. Between Gary and gaetano, they hate new space the most. Gaetano is just a nut job, but I have to wonder if gary is a paid troll.

  21. This is what neurotypicals commonly refer to as a “joke”. The person posting it knows it is not real, and is counting on the audience also knowing that it is not real in order to elicit a humorous response.

  22. OK. Between Deplorable Fox Muldertrope, Conway Twittigan and the rest of you, I think we’ve had enough conspiracy mongering/theorizing here.

    So I’m shutting down comments on this thread. If or when there’s actual evidence that someone or something took out this rocket on purpose, I’ll post a new story then. Until, remember: the truth is out there. And trust no one.

  23. At the risk of encouraging this, I’m reminded of the 1971 made for TV movie (intended as a series pilot) ‘Earth II.’

    An early scene has an offshore diver with a respectable rifle attempting to take out a Saturn V on the pad, but a security patrol spots and stops him in time…

  24. Yeah, I just rewatched it after posting this, and although they switched Saturns several times, it was not as bad as I remembered. Maybe they fixed it when they remastered all the episodes.

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