SpaceX suffered its first missile failure when one of their F9R rockets aborted its mission and auto-destructed over Texas shortly after takeoff on August 22. One observer video shows debris falling from the sky just after the explosion. No one was hurt in the blast, but the loss comes as the latest in a string of disastrous events facing the company and its iconic leader Elon Musk, including mass lay-offs in California and worker lawsuits.
The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9R rocket took off from the company’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor. The company reported that the launch was only a test. “Three engine F9R Dev1 vehicle auto-terminated during test flight,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter. “No injuries or near injuries. Rockets are tricky …”
Three engine F9R Dev1 vehicle auto-terminated during test flight. No injuries or near injuries. Rockets are tricky …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 23, 2014
First launched on September 12, 2012, SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket was just beginning to undergo test flights in order to help the company determine whether or not re-using rockets after space launches was achievable.
On July 14, the company launched the first group of six ORBCOMM OG2 satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida into orbit. It was the tenth consecutive successful flight of a Falcon 9 and the “constellation” of OG2 machine-to-machine communications satellites deployed into geo-synchronous orbit on target.
At the time, SpaceX announced that its Falcon 9 rocket hadconducted its mission and then landed softly and safely in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully returning back through the Earth’s atmosphere. But the company did admit that the landing resulted in a catastrophic breach in the rocket booster’s hull.
SpaceX’s multi-stage space “vehicle” is based on SpaceX’s operational Falcon 9 rocket, which has a nine-engine first stage. SpaceX has been performing reusability tests with the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage by returning the boosters to Earth after satellite and spacecraft launches.
The August 22 failure and auto-destruct involved a three-engine version of the Falcon 9 rocket based on SpaceX’s Grasshopper prototype. “During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission,” the company said in a statement on Friday.
“Throughout the test and subsequent flight termination, the vehicle remained in the designated flight area. There were no injuries or near injuries. An FAA representative was present at all times.”
Photo: John Raoux/AP