NASA Will Not Release Public Report on SpaceX Falcon 9 Dragon Failure

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

NASA will not publicly release the results of its own investigation into the catastrophic failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched a Dragon resupply ship into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2015.

After saying it would release a summary of the agency’s investigation, NASA passed the buck to the FAA on an accident that destroyed $118 million worth of cargo the space agency was sending to the International Space Station (ISS).

“Since it was an FAA licensed flight, NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary, and has deferred any additional products related to the matter at this time,” the agency’s Public Affairs Office (PAO) said in an email.

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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

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The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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A Video Analysis of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Firexplanomaly

Video Caption: A more detailed analysis of the spacex falcon 9 rocket explosion.

Several interesting details. Firstly the main explosion is actually from the fuel from the second stage and the liquid oxygen from the first stage.

In order to save weight on the rocket the second stage of the falcon 9 uses a common wall for the liquid oxygen and fuel tank (rp1). Any rupture in this tank wall would doom the rocket.

The quiet ‘pop’ may well be a failure of a helium tank. They are usually used to keep a pressure in the tanks while they are emptying due to the rocket burning the fuel. If one of these had ruptured while the oxygen tank was full, it could have overpressurized the tank causing it to also fail.

NASA Still Hasn’t Released Report on SpaceX’s Last Accident

Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

SpaceX’s recent firexplanomaly on the launch pad that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 reminded me that NASA has not yet released an accident report from the company’s previous catastrophic failure in June 2015. That in-flight accident launched a Dragon supply ship bound for the International Space Station into the Atlantic Ocean.

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SpaceX: Giant Leaps, Deep Troughs But No Plateaus

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this, but you pay for that
And once you’re gone, you can never come back
When you’re out of the blue and into the black.

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
Neil Young

In his book, “Mastery,” George Leonard provides a fascinating explanation of how people master new skills.

The mastery curve (Credit: George Leonard)
The mastery curve (Credit: George Leonard)

“There’s really no way around it. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau somewhat higher in most cases than that which preceded it,” Leonard writes. “The curve above is not necessarily idealized. In the actual learning experience, progress is less regular; the upward spurts vary; the plateaus have their own dips and rises along the way. But the general progression is almost always the same.”

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SpaceX Launch Pad Explanomaly is a Real Head Scratcher

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, are scratching their heads over how the company managed to destroy a Falcon 9 launch and the Amos-6 communications satellite during routine propellant loading last week.

And it’s little wonder. There’s not a lot of precedent for this type of accident. The last time a launch provider had a failure like this one was more than half a century ago when the industry was in its infancy.

Conspiracies Abound on Falcon 9 Fireplosion

Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)
Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)

By now, you’ve probably heard the conspiracy theories about the fire and explosion (fireplosion?) that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and destroyed the Amos-6 spacecraft.

Was the rocket taken out by a drone? An alien UFO? An U.S. government determined to keep Spacecom out of the hands of a Chinese conglomerate? A bird pooping on the equipment? Or all of the above?

While the investigation continues and the speculation rages over the cause, there’s been one possibility that has been ignored completely….

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SpaceX: Anomaly Originated Around Upper Stage LOX Tank

Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)
Falcon 9 explodes on the launch pad. (Credit: USLaunchReport.com)

SpaceX Statement
September 2, 6:45pm EDT

SpaceX has begun the careful and deliberate process of understanding the causes and fixes for yesterday’s incident. We will continue to provide regular updates on our progress and findings, to the fullest extent we can share publicly.

We deeply regret the loss of AMOS-6, and safely and reliably returning to flight to meet the demands of our customers is our chief priority. SpaceX’s business is robust, with approximately 70 missions on our manifest worth over $10 billion. In the aftermath of yesterday’s events, we are grateful for the continued support and unwavering confidence that our commercial customers as well as NASA and the United States Air Force have placed in us.

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