NASA: Falcon 9 Failure in 2015 Caused by “Design Error”

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Nearly three years after a SpaceX Falcon 9 failed in flight sending a Dragon resupply ship to the bottom of the Atlantic, NASA has finally released a public summary of its own investigation into the accident. [Public Summary — PDF]

You might recall that SpaceX’s internal accident investigation blamed a defective strut assembly in the second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank. The strut, provided by an outside supplier, snapped under launch stresses, causing a helium bottle inside the tank to break free and destroy the LOX tank, the company said.

The NASA investigation found that is a credible scenario for the accident. However, the space agency blamed a “design error” by SpaceX. The table below shows a summary of the investigation’s technical findings.


Smith Praises Lightfoot on Retirement from NASA

Lamar Smith

WASHINGTON  – U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today released the following statement after NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced his upcoming retirement.

Chairman Smith: “Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years. He has worked in many capacities starting as a test engineer and rising to NASA’s highest ranking civil servant as associate administrator before heading the agency as acting administrator. His commitment to America’s spaceflight program and space exploration has been an immense asset for NASA, and we will miss his leadership at NASA’s helm. As Acting Administrator Lightfoot said himself, ‘NASA make[s] the impossible possible.’ I thank Robert for all he has done to achieve the impossible, and I look forward to a smooth transition to the next administrator and to what’s to come as NASA soars toward its next achievements.”

NASA Selects Advanced Manufacturing Projects for SBIR Contracts

NASA has selected four advanced manufacturing projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II program.

Ultratech Machinery, Made in Space, Supercool Metals and Intelligent Optical Systems were selected for two-year contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece. Each company received funding for its project under the first phase of the SBIR program.

Ultratech Machinery is being funded to develop a multi-material, ultrasonic additive manufacturing (3D printing) laboratory for use aboard the International Space Station (ISS).


ILS to Launch 2 Satellite Servicing Spacecraft for Effective Space

Credit: Effective Space

WASHINGTON, DC (ILS PR) — ILS, a U.S.-based leading global commercial launch services provider and UK headquartered Effective Space announce their intent to contract to deliver two of Effective Space’s SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft into orbit. The Proton Breeze M rideshare launch is planned for 2020 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“ILS is focused on serving the satellite industry with flexible, and affordable launch solutions and our agreement with Effective Space is a perfect example of that. The performance of the Proton Breeze M vehicle to deliver the SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft directly to geostationary orbit combined with our decades-long history of launching dual or multiple spacecraft at one time, makes it a natural fit for Proton to deploy their spacecraft,” said ILS President Kirk Pysher. “This combination of performance and experience will enable Effective Space to realize their mission objective in the most expedient and effective way possible.”


This Week on The Space Show

This week on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston:

1. Monday, March 12, 218: 2-3:30 PM PDT; 4-5:30 PM CDT; 6-6:30 PM EDT We welcome back DR. JEFF BELL to the program for a multi-topic discussion.

2. Tuesday, March 13, , 2018: 7-8:30 PM PDT; 9-10:30 PM CDT; 10-11:30 PM EDT: We welcome back DR. ROBERT ZUBRIN to the program.

3. Wednesday, March 14, 2018: Hotel Mars. See Upcoming Show Menu and the website newsletter for details. Hotel Mars is pre-recorded by John Batchelor. It is archived on The Space Show site after John posts it on his website.

4. Friday, March 16, 2018; 9:30 AM-11 AM PDT, (12:30 -2 PM EDT; 11:30 AM-1 PM CDT): We welcome back DR ERIK SEEDHOUSE to discuss his new book regarding British astronaut Tim Peake.

5. Sunday, March 18, 2018: 12-1:30 PM PDT; 2-3:30 PM CDT; 3-4:30 PM EDT. OPEN LINES. All space, STEM, STEAM, & science topics welcome. First time callers are welcome.

Acting Administrator Lightfoot Announces Retirement From NASA

Robert Lightfoot

After nearly 14 months as acting administrator of NASA, Robert Lightfoot has announced that he will be retiring from the space agency effective April 30.

“I cannot express enough my gratitude to the entire NASA team for the support during my career and especially the last 14 months as your acting administrator,” he said in a message to NASA employees.


NASA Outlines New Lunar Science, Human Exploration Missions

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA is focused on an ambitious plan to advance the nation’s space program by increasing science activities near and on the Moon and ultimately returning humans to the surface.

As part of the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal, NASA is planning a new Moon-focused exploration campaign that starts with a series of progressive commercial robotic missions.


Made in Space Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Made in Space focused on producing advanced crystals and high-strength components for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Each two-year Phase II is worth up to $750,000.

The Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) would produce “nonlinear optical single crystals and other relatively large material formulations, such as bulk single-crystal thin films and high temperature optical fiber,” according to the proposal.


FAA Draft Environmental Impact Statement Released for Spaceport Camden

Spaceport Camden (Credit: Camden County)

WOODBINE, Ga., March 9, 2018 (Camden County PR) — Spaceport Camden has achieved its most significant milestone to date with the release of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The EIS process for Spaceport Camden began in the fall of 2015 and for the last two and a half years, the FAA has been evaluating the environmental impacts of all proposed construction and operational activities, including those from launches of orbital and suborbital vertical launch vehicles and first-stage landings at Spaceport Camden.


Vector Selected for NASA SBIR Award

NASA has selected Vector Launch company for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II award to demonstrate a micropump-based stage pressurization system. The two-year contract is worth up to $750,000.

“Electrically-driven micropumps drive a small portion of each propellant over a novel 3D-printed heat exchanger at the engine to pressurize the tanks. Excess flow can be diverted to the engine as needed,” the company said in its proposal.


Falcon 9 & Soyuz Launch Communications Satellites

Soyuz rocket takes off from French Guiana on March 9, 2018. (Credit: Arianespace)

It was a successful week for launches around the world.

On Tuesday, SpaceX conducted its 50th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket. The booster orbited the 30W-6 communications satellite for Hispsat of Spain from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida. At 6 metric tons, it was the heaviest geosynchronous satellite ever launched by SpaceX.

On Friday, a Soyuz booster roared off the pad in French Guiana to deliver four O3b F4 communications satellites for SES. It was the third successful launch of Russia’s workhorse Soyuz rocket this year.


Silicon Valley Company Launched Satellites Without FCC Approval

SpaceBEE satellite (Credit: ISRO)

A Silicon Valley startup named Swarm Technologies has been accused of launching four tiny satellites into space without FCC approval. The four SpaceBEE satellites, which are about one quarter the size of a 1U CubeSat, were launched aboard an Indian PSLV booster in January. The satellites are testing Internet of Things technologies.

The only problem is, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had dismissed Swarm’s application for its experimental satellites a month earlier, on safety grounds. The FCC is responsible for regulating commercial satellites, including minimizing the chance of accidents in space. It feared that the four SpaceBees now orbiting the Earth would pose an unacceptable collision risk for other spacecraft.

If confirmed, this would be the first ever unauthorized launch of commercial satellites.

On Wednesday, the FCC sent Swarm a letter revoking its authorization for a follow-up mission with four more satellites, due to launch next month. A pending application for a large market trial of Swarm’s system with two Fortune 100 companies could also be in jeopardy.

In fact, the FCC told the startup that the agency would assess “the impact of the applicant’s apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites… on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee.” If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists.

Read the full story.

NASA Selects Variable Gravity ISS Centrifuge for Funding

NASA has selected a proposal from Techshot to develop a variable gravity rodent centrifuge for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The two-year Phase II contract is worth up to $750,000.

“The counter-balanced centrifuge is designed to provide a facility to allow rats and mice to live and be observed in simulated gravity between 0-1 g for up to 90 days,” the company said in its proposal. “This streamlined design is more cost efficient and provides up to five cages. Each cage can accommodate at least six 30 gram mice, three 200 gram rats, or two 400 gram rats per cage.”


Vector to Conduct Dedicated Launch of Alba Orbital PocketQube Satellites on First Orbital Attempt

TUCSON, Ariz., March 8, 2018 (Vector PR) — Vector, a nanosatellite launch company comprised of new-space and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, today announced it will conduct a dedicated launch of two PocketQube satellites using an Alba Orbital deployer (AlbaPOD) on the Vector-R launch vehicle later this year from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) in Kodiak.

Alba Orbital, a manufacturer of PocketQube satellites, will launch the Unicorn-2a satellite platform and a satellite developed by Delft University of Technology, Delfi-PQ1. The launch itself marks a historic moment for both Vector and Alba Orbital as its first orbital launch attempt and the world’s first PocketQube dedicated launch.