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Falcon 9 Launch Aborted At Last Minute

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the timothy-camping-on-launchpad dept.

NASA 149

ClockEndGooner writes "Sadly, SpaceX had to abort its launch of the Falcon 9 to the International Space Station this morning due to higher than expected pressure levels in one of its engine chambers. NASA and SpaceX have another launch window scheduled for early next week." Probably better than an engine failing during launch; hopefully everything is worked out for Tuesday.

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149 comments

Last minute pullout (4, Funny)

arcite (661011) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050753)

I guess it's better than blowing up!

Re:Last minute pullout (1)

StormyWeather (543593) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051039)

Or an internal explosion which leads to unexpected consequences.. had har har

Re:Last minute pullout (3, Funny)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051249)

I dont know why they would do this.. I mean, certain groups are against aborting and require you jam a rod up the hole for an education on why abortion is bad.
I, for one, thinking aborting to save a life is the right choice, but others think aborting should be left to "god".

Wait... what are we talking about?

fuck CBS. (4, Insightful)

StormyWeather (543593) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050773)

"It's a setback for NASA's plan to have private companies take over much of what's been an exclusively government enterprise. "

Not really, the thing intelligently averted a possible problem. Look at the reams of government rockets that blew up on the pad or feet off the ground. Are folks set back? Maybe a little, but if it had blown up it would have been more of a learning experience than a setback. Rocketry is almost nothing but constant failure. The fact that they didn't lose the hardware is an amazing success in my book. Typical CBS trying to paint private enterprises as being unable to compete with the government. Sure private companies can't force citizens to pay for their goods, so are forced to maintain costs to a greater degree, but an amazing set of engineers working anywhere can do amazing things, and are only limited by the bureaucracies they work inside of corporate or government.

Re:fuck CBS. (3, Insightful)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050811)

Ya it seems to me CBS is being a putz, how many times has NASA delayed a launch? Launch delays are pretty par for the course when it comes to any sort of orbital ventures. These rockets are not simply devices and safety is taken very seriously because at the most basic level they are simply a controlled explosion, that runs the risk of becoming an uncontrolled explosion with the slightest problem.

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

theshibboleth (968645) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052097)

Yes, although aborting .5 seconds from launch is a bit unusual (but as has been said better than the alternative and better than what NASA has done at times).

Re:fuck CBS. (4, Insightful)

AJWM (19027) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052671)

The SpaceX spokeswoman compared it to a pilot doing an engine run-up and checking the gauges before take-off. They ran up the engines, didn't like what they saw on one of them, and shut it down.

Shuttle did something similar at least once, possibly twice: ignited the main engines, saw something out of spec, and shut them down before lighting the solids. (Once you light solids, you're going somewhere whether you like it or not.)

For that matter Gemini 6 (manned) did something similar with the engines lighting and the launch aborting before actual lift-off. In that case an electrical plug which was supposed to disconnect as the vehicle lifted off fell out when engines started. The computer saw that the plug was out but the vehicle hadn't moved and killed the engines. The astronauts should have ejected (if the Titan booster had lifted even a little it could have exploded when it fell back) but decided not to since they'd felt no motion (Schirra had experienced a Mercury launch). It launched successfully three days later.

Re:fuck CBS. (2)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052681)

I wonder if the computer was waiting to see if the pressure subsided before the launch window closed.
 
In the Apollo era, I'm sure there were some automatic shutoffs, but I imagine a lot of data had to be monitored by humans, making these sorts of last half second aborts a lot less common.
 
It's also worth pointing out that SpaceX is developing a human rated rocket based on the same basic technology. It would be really hard to sell NASA, congress, and perhaps most importantly, the astronauts riding on top of the thing, if it blew up on the pad. An abort costs millions of dollars, but three days worth of delays is nothing compared to flushing six years worth of hard work down the drain just because they weren't overly cautious. Expect to see more delays more often in the future to avoid catastrophic failures during launch.

Re:fuck CBS. (5, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052369)

In the press conference after the launch abort, SpaceX said this was essentially a similar failure to one they had on the initial Falcon 9 flight.

The #1 difference between this flight and the previous flight is that the launch window was so tight that they need to wait a couple of days to get the same launch opportunity again rather than doing a quick recycle and trying a minor fix like they did with the initial Falcon 9 launch. If all SpaceX had to do was to get this vehicle into orbit, it likely would already be there right now instead of being delayed by a couple more days.

BTW, this same situation also happened several times with the Space Shuttle, and you are correct that this is pretty par for the course of any space launch. Rocket science is hard stuff and very unforgiving if you try to apply public relations and political correctness into the Rocket Equation. I guess the next launch opportunity is going to be Tuesday, as the engineers involved want to inspect the #5 rocket engine and find out what went wrong. They are going to be very busy over the next couple of days, likely pulling substantial overtime hours as well.

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050867)

The Check Engine Light came on ?

Re:fuck CBS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051743)

They got a "Paper Jam" error.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch (1)

kakaburra (2508064) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050911)

The fact that they didn't lose the hardware is an amazing success in my book

Re:Don't count your chickens before they hatch (2, Insightful)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051003)

They could have achieved this without lighting the engines.

Re:Don't count your chickens before they hatch (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051197)

Exactly how would they have detected unexpected high pressure with the engine off? moron.

Re:Don't count your chickens before they hatch (3, Informative)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051619)

They could have achieved this without lighting the engines.

The issue was high pressure in engine number 5. They would NOT be able to achieve this until combustion began, at which point the pressure they are measuring is generated. The guy hosting the webcast said something to the effect of "The computer analyzes everything after we light the engine, but before we release the rocket for flight, and will shut down if it detects a problem before we actually launch."

A safety system worked as intended. All-in-all, a good safety system to have in place.

Re:fuck CBS. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050979)

cbs would prefer the alternate. SpaceX ignored critical sensor readings and launched the Falcon 9 today risking the lives of every American. that sounds more newsy.

Agreed...mostly... (4, Interesting)

neoshroom (324937) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050991)

I'd have to agree with you entirely, minus the misdirected political assumptions.

The journalist is looking at it from the standpoint that SpaceX was supposed to launch today and something went wrong, so it's a setback. In reality, what happened today was somewhat impressive in-and-of itself. The Falcon rocket auto-detected a problem with software and half a second before liftoff shut itself down without any damage.

Would NASA have ever been able to do that? No. NASA would have sent the rocket into space with the problem because it had no such software. This already seems way better and safer.

However, the journalist probably just didn't think about it that in-depth and so sees the failure to launch as a small failure (which it is, albiet not a serious one and a strong success at the same time). His talk of government is just boilerplate background not a biased pro-government agenda.

Re:Agreed...mostly... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051463)

How many Space Shuttle launches aborted with less than 6 secs before lift off, where the shuttle's engines were going but the srbs hadnt been ignited? I do recall at least a couple...

Re:Agreed...mostly... (5, Informative)

Gripp (1969738) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051543)

you honestly think NASA used zero fault detection?? they had triple redundancy of nearly every system for god's sake! I for one see a pressure sensor/valve as nothing impressive. I can't imagine that such technology hasn't been employed in the space program since day one.

As for TFA - the media makes me bitter. Something that was intended for the good of the public has become vastly more of a harm. While I am of the opinion that the transition from public to private space programs should have been accomplished more organically, privatizing it overall is a good thing. And smear campaigns by the media is only helping to setback our nation - as funding and public opinion are often closely related.

Re:Agreed...mostly... (4, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051901)

For onething, at least one launch was aborted after the SSMEs fired, 6 seconds before the SRBs were set to fire. Did you never listen to the radio control patter, especially during the early shuttle launches. They were careful to say what "window options" were open during each phase of the flight. There was "abort to launch site", "abort tranatlantic", (to Spain, I believe.) and "abort to orbit:". Beyond that, there were points where various abort or even mission completion options could be accomplished with a one-engine fail, or later on even with a two-engine fail.

Much as it may be fun to bash NASA, they've probably forgotten more about such mission control aspects than private industry has had the chance to learn yet. While we're still bashing NASA, they've probably forgotten many of their own lessons.

Re:Agreed...mostly... (0)

theNAM666 (179776) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052255)

>Did you never listen to the radio control patter, especially during the early shuttle launches.
> They were careful to say what "window options" were open during each phase of the flight.
>There was "abort to launch site", "abort tranatlantic", (to Spain, I believe.) and "abort to orbit:".

Yada Yadda. I've got the shuttle operations manual right here. Your point?

If a shuttle failed-- it did happen!-- NASA went on. If a private rocket fails at this point, the private carrier dies in the water of "the market." That pretty much says it all for me.

Else go read Feynman's analysis of the shuttle disaster and complacency. Your point might have validity, were it not contradicted by historical fact. Sure, they had abort options. They also ignored the fact that the engineering team told them the shuttle *was* gong to explode in cold weather, and killed people doing it.

If "private industry" did the same, they would face manslaughter charges. Only government can get away with that level of incompetence and disregard for human life, and survive.

Re:Agreed...mostly... (0)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052479)

Adding insult to injury, the reason why the Columbia was destroyed upon re-entry is in part because the Environmental Protection Agency got into a feud with NASA over the foam being used for the cryogenic tank connectors. The original foam being used would have broken up and was much, much lighter where it wouldn't have caused any problem like what caused damage to the leading edge tiles that ultimately caused the problems for the Columbia. The problem was that the original foam had chlorofluorocarbon compounds that were perceived as "hazardous to the environment". I don't know how many lives were spared by the switch to the new foam due to slightly reduced skin cancer rates worldwide, but I know of at least seven astronauts who are dead because of that change. I sure hope that EPA bureaucrat feels nice warm fuzzies over all of the lives he saved because of that move.

On top of that, there were engineers who spotted the problems on the Columbia (or at least thought they were serious problems enough to kick the issue to upper management) within 24 hours of the launch. The Columbia was in orbit for over two weeks where engineers knew it was going to be destroyed upon re-entry yet NASA management dismissed the issue and didn't even bother to tell the astronauts on board that there might even be a problem or even try to find out if it could be a problem. The general attitude was that there was no rescue plan therefore the astronauts were as good as dead anyway... so they didn't even bother trying.

If the Challenger disaster showed "go fever" and general disregard for engineering recommendations, what happened with the Columbia was an unmitigated management failure so severe it should have brought about the end of the agency altogether.

Re:Agreed...mostly... (3, Interesting)

DarrylM (170047) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052527)

As someone else posted, an engine cut-off just before launch happened several times during the Shuttle program. There was even a case where a main engine shut down during flight, forcing an abort to orbit (ATO) - do a Youtube search for the launch of Challenger mission STS-51F.

One of my favourite space-related quotes came from STS-41D (Discovery), which had a main engine cut off at T-6s. Apparently the situation was rather...tense, with a fire starting after the engines shut down. One of the crewmen broke the tension: "Gee, I thought we'd be a lot higher at MECO!" (Main Engine Cut-Off).

Re:fuck CBS. (0, Troll)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051229)

The Saturn V could (and did) shut down 1 of it's 5 first stage engines and still go to the moon. Tell me, How much of the 1960's Saturn V payload of 256,000 LBS to orbit can this shining new example of "private" technology the Falcon lift? If and when it works?

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051549)

About a third, in its heaviest version, and at a fraction of the cost. And just wait, NASA also hasn't built a Saturn V overnight.

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051977)

Falcon 9 is much smaller than the Saturn V. I think it carries about 1.45 Billion dollars less per launch.

Bigger isn't always better. SpaceX's main two revolutions are 1) making space flight affordable, and 2) they are paving the way for private space flight. Demanding they do everything bigger and better than the Saturn V is short-sighted and unfair.

Re:fuck CBS. (3, Informative)

The_Laughing_God (253693) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051997)

A Falcon 9 can lose not just one but two of its engines *after* launch and still complete its mission.

It's just not going to take off when it spots a problem when it's still on the ground. The Saturn V couldn't spot such a problem, much less abort half-a-second before lift-off. It would have been past the point of no return

Re:fuck CBS. (2)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052209)

Although the Saturn V's system design took place at the Mashall Space Flight Center in Alabama, lift systems design and production were done by Boeing, North American Aviation, and Douglas Aircraft Company. IBM was another primary contractor. In other words, a large part of Saturn V was private, purchased by the gov't. SpaceX is private from the bottom up.

Re:fuck CBS. (0)

theNAM666 (179776) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052311)

Someone modded this BS up? Please.

The Falcon 9 heavy lifter WILL carry 125,000 lbs to orbit. Wanna guess the cost factor savings versus the taxpayer-funded excess above? 20 to 1? 50 to 1?

Sure the Saturn V was impressive-- in the way a muscle car burning all the fuel in the world is impressive. When you've got a fed tax agent with a gun to your head extracting the money to pay for the fuel and engineering, of course.

NASA was inefficient, pure and simple. Goddard would have puked-- he meant to innovate, make new and better engines, not scale 1940-s era inefficient designs to huge sizes (look at the posthumous patents his wife filed after his death). NASA's medicracy simply didn't know any better, or give a damn-- no incentive.

Re:fuck CBS. (4, Informative)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052377)

Tell me, How much of the 1960's Saturn V payload of 256,000 LBS to orbit can this shining new example of "private" technology the Falcon lift? If and when it works?

Well, the heaviest rocket the US can launch today after the shuttle program ended is the Delta IV-H, which at 29 kLBS is not that much bigger than a Falcon 9 at 23 kLBS. The Saturn Vs were an amazing piece of engineering, but they retired almost 40 years ago because they had no other market or purpose than to go to the moon. The Falcon 9 will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Delta IV, Atlas V etc. in their most common medium configuration and the planned Falcon Heavy would exceed any rocket operational today but it'll still only be half a Saturn V. I'm sure SpaceX would love to build a rocket bigger and more badass than the Saturn V, but unless the endless budgets of the Apollo era come back I don't think that's going to happen. Not for NASA, not for SpaceX.

Re:fuck CBS. (3, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052575)

The Saturn V needed all five of its engines running at lift off. I don't know how often a Saturn V launch was aborted just prior to launch, but it did use a similar kind of detection system like the Falcon 9 used today and there were abort parameters for the launch. It wasn't until after the Saturn V was part way into its flight that it could lose one of the engines and maintain its mission profile. The 1st stage in that case did need to burn a little bit longer when that happened though.

In fact the main job of the mission commander during launch was to grab onto an "abort" handle where at any point he didn't like any of the numbers he was seeing that he could twist the handle and stop the flight or send the crew module into abort mode and activate the launch escape system. There were other people who did something similar up until launch and even for a couple minutes afterward at KSC and in Houston at the Johnson Space Center.

The real question that should be asked is why did the Nixon administration junk the Saturn V with all of those capabilities like you are suggesting and replace that with the Space Shuttle, which flew smaller amounts of cargo for a much higher price per launch? Yes, I know the Shuttle wasn't supposed to be more expensive than Saturn V launches, but in the end it turned out to be much more expensive, with a reduced payload capacity and completely abandoning the ability to travel back to the Moon.

BTW, SpaceX is working on an engine called the "Merlin 2" that Elon Musk claims will have the same thrust capacity as the F1 engines used on the Saturn V. As envisioned in a future version of the Falcon 9, it will replace the entire 9-engine cluster currently being used with just one engine instead, or a heavy lift class vehicle that will completely replace for the first time in 40 years the capabilities America had once upon a time with the Saturn V. At the moment, no other country or organization on Earth has that capability or is even planning on that ability (even the SLS won't match the Saturn V performance envelope) so what is your point again?

Re:fuck CBS. (2)

AJWM (19027) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052849)

When the Shuttle was first in design mode, it was supposed to replace everything except Saturn V on the high end and Delta (much smaller then than today's version) on the low end.

However, after the last few Apollo moon landings were scrapped (the plans went to Apollo 20) and some of the hardware repurposed to Skylab (or in the case of two perfectly good Saturn Vs, lawn ornaments), the VAB and launch complexes 39 A and B (C was planned but never built) were reconfigured for Shuttle and thus rendered useless for stacking and launching an S-V. It was a cost-saving measure but meant the decision to never fly another S-V had been made.

And the scrapping was as much due to Congressional pressure as anything that Nixon decided -- some of those decisions had been taken toward the end of the Johnson administration.

Re:fuck CBS. (2)

AJWM (19027) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052779)

The Saturn V could (and did) shut down 1 of it's 5 first stage engines and still go to the moon

Not at launch, it couldn't (and never did). An engine failure up to T+7.5 seconds would likely cause the vehicle to collide with the tower (it took a long time to clear the tower, launch thrust-to-weight ratio was low, and it's a tall tower) and would be problematic even after that.

Apollo 13 lost the center engine on the second stage two minutes early due to a faulty pressure sensor, the other four burned longer to compensate.

Also, a Saturn V launch cost about a billion dollars a shot. That's quite a bit more than Falcon.

Re:fuck CBS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051441)

I just love the phrase "government rocket", as if any of those had been built by the government and not by private contractors. As to blowing up, well, the control and monitoring back in the day wasn't what we have now, and there were a number of things they just didn't know. That would be why we had government doing the initial research in the first place--because doing that wasn't profitable but would later (and did) produce big gains for everyone. That some private corporations get rich off of this stuff is a semi-unfortunate consequence of how our economy works because I generally believe people should pay for their cost of doing business and should have neither research nor facilities handed to them unless they pay we the people back for doing their work for them (looking at you, drug companies and sports teams).

So--nice attempted slam at government again, but try doing it about something that needs it, like out of control law enforcement. I hope this venture works out. If it does, it will be because the government decided to take risks that private enterprise wouldn't, learned the lessons they wouldn't, and gave those lessons to them essentially FOR FREE, and the thanks they get is to be derided by knee-jerk reactionaries.

Re:fuck CBS. (1, Flamebait)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051649)

That some private corporations get rich off of this stuff is a semi-unfortunate consequence of how our economy works because I generally believe people should pay for their cost of doing business and should have neither research nor facilities handed to them unless they pay we the people back for doing their work for them (looking at you, drug companies and sports teams).

To the contrary, this is extremely fortunate. Keep in mind that most NASA R&D is both overpriced and unused. Their history past Apollo boils down to a rather wasteful employment program for aerospace engineers and space scientists.

That means looking for any sort of return on investment is just a delusion. No company could afford to compensate NASA for even a fraction of its R&D and still have a business. Frankly, it wouldn't be fair to ask them to since the US decided to give that stuff away for free. So anyone who thinks NASA R&D is important (well, which might not include you) should be thankful that some of that R&D is actually being used.

I wouldn't mind either NASA getting out of the technology development business (incidentally, I strongly oppose them maintaining any sort of launch capability, such as the Space Launch System (SLS)) or merely, shifting priorities from technology development to the other goals that NASA is supposed to have such as commercial space development and space exploration.

So--nice attempted slam at government again, but try doing it about something that needs it, like out of control law enforcement. I hope this venture works out. If it does, it will be because the government decided to take risks that private enterprise wouldn't, learned the lessons they wouldn't, and gave those lessons to them essentially FOR FREE, and the thanks they get is to be derided by knee-jerk reactionaries.

It's almost like you don't know the history. For example, NASA created the US launch oligopoly that lasted from the mid80s till the DoD's Evolutionary Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and SpaceX mixed things up a little in the late 90s and 00s.

As to NASA "taking risks", where's their Space Shuttle 2? The fact that they couldn't put one together in the last thirty years tells you all you need to know about risk taking at NASA.

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052501)

To be fair, NASA doesn't make any of these decisions. Whether to build a system or not, and how long that system is operated are decisions made by Congress. For Congress, NASA is nothing more than a way to deliver federal money to key Congressional districts. That's how we ended up with ten different space centers. Hell, that's why mission control is in Houston instead of at the Cape where it would make more sense. It's literally impossible for NASA to function efficiently - Congress won't allow it.

Even if SpaceX succeeds beyond everyone's wildest dreams, Congress will start to meddle the way they do in defense contracts. "Sure, you can build rockets for us, but you have to build the nozzles in Maine, the bodies in Nebraska, join them in Utah, and ship the assembly by boat from Texas."

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052879)

Even if SpaceX succeeds beyond everyone's wildest dreams, Congress will start to meddle the way they do in defense contracts. "Sure, you can build rockets for us, but you have to build the nozzles in Maine, the bodies in Nebraska, join them in Utah, and ship the assembly by boat from Texas."

To which SpaceX could rightly say "Sure, we'll build the Falcon-9-G [for government] for you that way. It'll cost $400 million a pop. Or you could use the commercial off-the-shelf version for a quarter of that." SpaceX's business model is to do 2/3 of their business outside of the US govt. NASA doesn't have that option.

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052217)

Well, their invention was bankrolled by a mad dictator hoping for a miracle weapon and the production was initially handled by slave labor...

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051557)

You forget these "private rockets" are almost fully funded with government grants at this point.

It is true that Space X seems to have a had a lot of leeway to try some new ideas. It may be that at NASA, engineers have not been given enough leeway to try new ideas, perhaps due to the politicians and congress which may be more dictated by corporate political affiliations, such as the insistence that scientists only use a certain technology on a rocket project, such as Space Shuttle technology, rather than thinking outside of the box. Not that I am saying that this technology is bad, but there are questions as to how much NASA is driven by politics rather than engineering and science. When driven by politics, we can end up with much more expensive and difficult to develop systems that are not the best we can use.

Re:fuck CBS. (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051645)

You forget these "private rockets" are almost fully funded with government grants at this point.

[Citation Needed]

Re:fuck CBS. (3, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052651)

SpaceX has been receiving money for the development of the Falcon series of rockets from the U.S. government over the life of the whole program. DARPA helped to pay for some of the initial Falcon 1 flights viewing the prospect of another launch company as something beneficial for the American military. DARPA payloads were on board those flights, including a satellite put together by the cadets at the Air Force Academy which flew on flight 3 of the Falcon 1.

This said, Elon Musk and the investors in SpaceX did pay for the bulk of the Falcon 1 development program, and the first two flights of the Falcon 9 were paid completely by SpaceX.

SpaceX has received money under the "Space Act Agreements" program operated through NASA to help with the development of the Falcon 9 as well, including helping to pay for the conformance testing of the docking system that the Dragon capsule will be using to attach itself to the International Space Station. This current flight will also be paid for by NASA through the COTS program, although it should be viewed differently than the cost-plus contractor model that was used to develop all of the previous NASA rocket systems including the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle vehicles as well as most of the other rockets that NASA has used in the past including stuff like the Scout rocket and other "unmanned" vehicles.

There is a difference here, even though I will be the first to admit that some government money is being involved. The largest difference that should be noticed is that SpaceX owns the vehicle and does not need NASA permission in order to sell these vehicles to private individuals.... which was not the case for the Space Shuttle or any of the other vehicles operated by NASA. In the 1970's, a wealthy person could not have gone to Boeing and the other NASA contractors to simply buy a Saturn V regardless of how much money they had, and I know for a fact that in the 1980's and 1990's there were several private investors who wanted to buy a Space Shuttle....and couldn't get congressional authorization for the purchase. There are several private companies who already have purchased the Falcon 9 and will be on future flights of the spacecraft (assuming all goes well in the next few days). Those vehicle being purchased by private companies certainly are not being purchased with public funds.

Re:fuck CBS. (2)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052537)

You forget these "private rockets" are almost fully funded with government grants at this point.

No, actually this isn't true in the SpaceX case. The design was fully funded by SpaceX. Now, much of the business they hope to capture is government business, so it's not like SpaceX would exist without the government. But they didn't get grants to build the rockets they've built.

where's the private sector magic pixie dust? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050785)

This was supposed to be perfect, because NASA's flaw are all because of their bloated government ways?

Now you tell me that rocket science is hard? Who knew?

Re:where's the private sector magic pixie dust? (2)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051615)

Show me the rocket that NASA built... and I'll show you the rocket built by a contractor.... which incidentally is private enterprise.

Re:where's the private sector magic pixie dust? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052679)

Show me the rocket that NASA built... and I'll show you the rocket built by a contractor.... which incidentally is private enterprise.

It will also be a rocket owned and operated by NASA personnel where those private companies by law simply can't sell those vehicles to private individuals at any price without explicit congressional authority to sell those rockets. That is presuming anybody wants to go through the headache of trying to convince 435 members of congress to even consider such a request.

To buy a Falcon 9, all you need to do is get on the phone with Gwynne Shotwell or Elon Musk and you can have the vehicle shipped wherever you may want it. For enough money, they'll even arrange for delivery of that rocket within a week if you care and might even bump NASA's COTS flight if you really want precedence. Otherwise you need to line up behind the other customers who have already purchased the rocket.

Yes, you can do something similar with the EELV program rockets like the Atlas V and Delta IV.. Then again, those weren't really NASA rockets either, were they?

Re:where's the private sector magic pixie dust? (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052723)

The difference is in how you incentivize the contractor. I have to agree with you, in the sense that we have the same buyer in either case.

Under the old system, it was lead by NASA on a cost + profit basis. Bureaucrats are punished more for failure but then rewarded by successes, so they are going to be a bit more cautions. Since the contractors are cost plus, they are always willing to follow, charging extra for more tests, more gold plating.

Under the new "private" system SpaceX is paid for each cargo they haul up, so the lower they can keep costs the more they can reap in profits. This makes them more aggressive / risk taking then the current NASA system..

There seams to be a repeating tone on all this... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050793)

It appears that not a lot of news reports like spaceX...

Caution is good (5, Insightful)

gagol (583737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050805)

I am glad to see this private enterprise is going with caution as opposed to rushing their launch no matter what. Microsoft and many other software companies can start to take notes. Looking forward to see a Falcon 9 servicing the ISS safely when ready.

Re:Caution is good (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052149)

I doubt there will be change. Reliability just isn't that much of an issue in normal software. Launch a rocket with poor reliability and you get a lot of smoking craters. Launch some software with poor reliability and you just get a bunch of pouty customers whom you hope (often with good reason) don't have access to anything better.

Falcon Punch!!!!! (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050819)

Aborted.

technical problems != technicalities (2, Insightful)

excelsior_gr (969383) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050823)

Kudos to the engineers and their managers that realized that technical problems are not technicalities. It took two Space Shuttles and a few unmanned missions to figure it out, but I guess we are learning, and that is a good thing.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (3, Interesting)

cryptolemur (1247988) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050879)

I understood from the live footage that it was actually the computer on the Falcon that cut off the engines right after ignition, not any engineer or manager. I may be wrong, though.

I also noticed that if SpaceX had to build the launch pad, the infrastructure, the launch control and the flight control centers, they might come up with bigger bill. But then again, NASA wasn't building the earlier rockets either, was it? So what exactly is new in this endeavour?

Re:technical problems != technicalities (2)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050923)

But then again, NASA wasn't building the earlier rockets either, was it? So what exactly is new in this endeavour?

Good points. I think the difference is that before NASA was saying "we want a bid for building a rocket with these exact properties / a moon lander to these specifications etc, and we will manage it and we will purchase it" it's now saying "we want a bid for a service to take these items from earth to the ISS"

I always half thought it was just a way of decreasing funds to NASA without acting like you're scaling it back ("oh we'll be more efficient now" / "oh it's private enterprise that isn't getting its act together"), but this mission is an impressive sign that it might work out.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (0)

Splab (574204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050931)

Don't think you can turn off the engines once they are lit up, most rockets are based on one long controlled explosion coming out of the back.
The article I saw said it was aborted at T minus 0 5 seconds, which is cutting it closer to the explosion than most action movies does :D

Re:technical problems != technicalities (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050989)

Liquid rockets can usually be shut down. Many can be throttled and even be restarted too.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051057)

The engines started (at, I believe, T-3 seconds) and went through their checks before the thing is let go of the pad while throttling up.

This time the checks said "we have a problem" so the automatic software shut it down 0.5 seconds before go time. Rocket never moved an inch but the engines did start - and immediately shut down.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051063)

Don't think you can turn off the engines once they are lit up

Of course you can. You stop the turbopumps and close the valves. No fuel means no fire.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (2)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051145)

I think that is true with the solid rocket boosters on the shuttle, but I'm pretty sure with a liquid rocket you can just turn off the valves and pumps supplying the liquid fuel.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052703)

I think that is true with the solid rocket boosters on the shuttle, but I'm pretty sure with a liquid rocket you can just turn off the valves and pumps supplying the liquid fuel.

Which is of course why the Liberty rocket is so much safer to use than the Falcon 9, because obviously the ability to shut down the rocket engines after they've been ignited is of so little importance that it shouldn't ever be considered.

(Note: I'm joking, but that is what ATK would have you believe.)

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052769)

You are right. The solid rockets are kind of like bottle rocks - once lit they stay lit.

IIRC after the first shuttle disaster they looked at installing at some kind of exotic method of shutting down the solid boosters after ignition, but it was impractical.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052547)

The reason they aborted was excess chamber pressure in one of the engines, which is something that couldn't occur if the engine is off.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (3, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051133)

But then again, NASA wasn't building the earlier rockets either, was it? So what exactly is new in this endeavour?

NASA more or less spec'd what the rocket had to do, rather than designing the rocket and hiring subcontractors to build it.

But the main difference is that SpaceX can make this rocket in a way they deem efficient, rather than building some parts in one congressman's district, shipping them along a special rail line to another location, etc.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

JoeKlip (2566683) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051815)

Well the engines are Russian made so they probably shipped or flew them over. So they really outsourced the engine from the Russian.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052197)

SpaceX's engines are made in the US by SpaceX as is virtually all of the rocket. I think this says more about the dreadful state of aerospace manufacture in the US (and frankly, everywhere else in the world) than some new paradigm of manufacture on SpaceX's part.

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052559)

Eh? The fact that they successfully built everything in the US says something about the "dreadful state of aerospace manufacture in the US"?

Re:technical problems != technicalities (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052741)

You are confusing the engines that Orbital Science will be using for its COTS flights, which are being made by RKK Energia.

Then again, those are very reliable engines that have a long flight history, so why is that any sort of problem?

As mentioned by khallow, SpaceX manufactures the Merlin engines being used by the Falcon 9 on the same factory floor where the skin and the rest of the Falcon 9 and even the Dragon capsule have been manufactured, and the test stand for proving the Merlin engines is in McGreagor, Texas. I suppose that you might think Texas is a foreign country outside of the USA, but I can't help out with your understanding of geography. Is Texas a part of the Russian Republic? I know a few people who think California might be, so you could possibly be correct.

Pussies (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050825)

This namby-pamby fixation on safety would never have happened if Ronald Reagan were still alive.

Re:Pussies (3, Informative)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050885)

When you have a $3.6 billion contract and a rocket that cost $300 million to develop and $200,000 just to fuel up, you are going to be very conservative when it comes to safety. The last thing you want is for your investment to literally blow up on you.

Re:Pussies (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051231)

I see what you mean paiute! See this pansy-ass number bullshit Nidi62 is spewing? Just pull the fucking trigger already!

Re:Pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40052533)

What's the big deal? It's not like it's rocket sci... oh, right. Never mind.

Capitalism is shit! (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050835)

Time to put it in the garbage where it belongs! Workers to power! For a Soviet planned economy! Smash imperialism!

good call (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050849)

An aborted launch may not be a successful launch, but it also isn't a failed launch. Good call.

Re:good call (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052475)

It is actually a successful abort test (albeit an unscheduled one!) Now, SpaceX knows that they can shut down the engines half a second before liftoff with no problems at all.

An engine lost on launch would've prevented the payload reaching the ISS. Aborting the launch unquestionably saved this mission (although it may yet be unsuccessful.

I admit, I've been skeptical of 'private' spaceflight, both because of the libertarian ideological bleating that seems to always be associated with it (posing a risk to gov. investment in space) and the fact that, with NASA still holding the hands of everyone, it isn't truly private. Nonetheless, today is a complete success for SpaceX. They had a problem, they dealt with it well.

In MY space program, we don't do aborts! (3, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050881)

When I'm launching my rockets full of explorers from the planet Kerth, we don't do aborts! If the engines are still attached to the ship, I'm punching the throttle and hitting the stage selection control! We're going to the Mun (or at least leaving the ground) no matter what!

Also, I don't do any pansy ass "test flights" guided by computer to some orbiting tin can! Every one of my flights is crewed by red blooded, beer chugging, motorcycle riding Kerbals who LOVE it even when it all goes wrong.

SpaceX and NASA could learn a lot from my experiences...

Re:In MY space program, we don't do aborts! (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40050987)

Your mother should have had an abortion.

Re:In MY space program, we don't do aborts! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051035)

I guess you didn't get the reference

http://kerbalspaceprogram.com/

Re:In MY space program, we don't do aborts! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051289)

Thanks for the link - looks cool :)

traditional NASA (3, Insightful)

optimism (2183618) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050893)

From TFA:

Even NASA's most seasoned launch commentator was taken off-guard.
"Three, two, one, zero and liftoff," announced commentator George Diller, his voice trailing as the rocket failed to budge.

They just keep following the old script, even when things change. Fresh blood, in the form of the private space industry, is great.

Aborting a launch automatically based on sensor data is not a failure; it is a success.

I'm sure the folks on the ISS have enough toilet paper and freeze-dried icecream to make it through the weekend, until the next launch window.

Re:traditional NASA (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051821)

Aborting a launch automatically based on sensor data is not a failure; it is a success.

It's disingenious to say that aborting a launch is a success. A success would have been getting the Falcon 9 to space (the original objective), instead it failed to launch . Maybe it's a success for the safety systems, which averted a disaster, and that is great. Maybe it's a cheaper failure than blowing up. Neither is a success you'd report on news.

I hope next Tuesday/Wednesday it launches successfully.

Re:traditional NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051965)

Liftoff is when it is no longer touching the launch pad. If it would have aborted a split second after liftoff it would have been a disaster.

Re:traditional NASA (2)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052485)

Seriously? An announcer being surprised by the abort and not being able to follow what was happening for a second is the evidence you present for your idiotic, triumphalist neoliberal beliefs? Fuck right off.

Re:traditional NASA (1)

optimism (2183618) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052863)

Seriously? An announcer being surprised by the abort and not being able to follow what was happening for a second is the evidence you present for your idiotic, triumphalist neoliberal beliefs? Fuck right off.

Erm...no. My perceptions of NASA are based on the NASA bureaucracy's historical behavior over the last 4 decades.

This was just an amusing anecdote that I thought might be modded up "Funny", not "Insightful", as it was. Apparently other folks agree with my perception of traditional NASA behavior.

I am sorry that you're having a bad day, but please don't take it out on me.

"Commentator was taken off-guard" (3, Informative)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 2 years ago | (#40050905)

Even NASA's most seasoned launch commentator was taken off-guard.

"Three, two, one, zero and liftoff," announced commentator George Diller, his voice trailing as the rocket failed to budge. "We've had a cutoff. Liftoff did not occur."

Commentators do not have realtime views of the raw data that would indicate a cutoff.

Space shuttle mission STS-68 had a similar last-second abort [youtube.com] ; at 1:00 in the video it even shows the countdown clock at T-0 seconds, even though the main engines actually started the abort sequence a couple seconds earlier. But with the shuttles, it was very obvious to the commentator when liftoff didn't happen because there were solid rocket boosters that didn't fire.

argh, you dumb fucks (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051021)

NASA has been outsourcing more routine builds for decades now. The difference is in the method of tendering for contract.

The development money and the greater part of the designs and all the launch centres have come from the US government (with a good bit of guidance from old Soviet designs). Whether the engineers' paycheques are from NASA or from Musk with him taking a cut is pretty much irrelevant.

To re-cap:
1) Public money;
2) Most of the work thanks to public employees;
3) Final implementation responsibility partly private.

Whether Falcon9 succeeds or fails says really nothing much about the public or the private sector. The only thing we can say for certain is Boeing&co. were making a fucking killing from the US government before now - and they still will, but not so much from NASA.

Re:argh, you dumb fucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051455)

Wow thanks for that. It is amazing how little actual rationality comes into play when libertarians talk. Sadly you will be downvoted into oblivion for challenging the party line but good job anyway.

Re:argh, you dumb fucks (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052499)

I'm glad I'm not the only one saying it.

Musk himself isn't NASA bashing; he is extremely grateful for their assistance. Its all the SpaceX fanboys who are the problem, trying to make Falcon 9 out as the harbinger of a libertarian conquest of space. It isn't, its just a well designed rocket which the US government isn't paying massively over the odds for.

Re:argh, you dumb fucks (3, Informative)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052865)

Not quite though. The difference between traditional government contracting and the current COTS/CCDev approach is subtle but important.

Development of all NASA vehicles (past the initial architecture studies) are done largely by private companies such as Lockheed Martin. However, the contracts for doing so are basically that the contractor is building exactly what the government asked of them, and they will be paid whatever the development costs with an additional guaranteed profit on top of it -- thus the name 'cost-plus contracting.' While this is necessary for high-risk, low-reward development, its something to avoid whenever possible since it combines the lack of competition of monopolistic or governmental development with the desire of corporations to increase their profits -- this is clearly a recipe for rising costs.

COTS and CCDev operate on a model more like how you and I buy things. The companies contracted this way are being paid a fixed amount and expected to produce. Because this is an expensive field, some of the money is being provided up front (and at certain milestones) in order to speed up development, but even if the final product ends up costing more than NASA pays, we the taxpayer don't pay any extra -- the companies involved will still finish it though because otherwise they don't get paid (assuming they're far enough along at the time of realizing they're going to be over-budget that its still cheaper to finish). After development, it will be a purely pay for service contract, different from getting a Super Shuttle from the airport only in scale. By having multiple competitors and fixed-price contracts, costs and quality will be controlled.

So yes, all previously development was 'commercial' as well. As someone involved in pushing for these "New Space" approaches, I really wish we had picked a better name for it, because the difference is subtle but importantly. Personally, I really like the name COTS because it implies the true goal: to make purchasing flights to orbit as simple as pulling the best competitor for the particular mission 'off the shelf' rather than requesting cost-plus custom solutions.

Facebook (1)

gtirloni (1531285) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051447)

And people told me to invest in SpaceX instead of Facebok. Take it now, suckers!

Let me see how much richer I am.




Wait a second....

Delta II blew up in 1997 (4, Interesting)

C0L0PH0N (613595) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051501)

The technology to abort a takeoff in the last 1/2 second is truly amazing, and because of high combustion pressure in an engine is a perfect catch. If the Boeing Delta II in 1997 had had the same type of status checking, it might have discovered the 17 foot crack in the booster, and aborted also, instead of blowing up on launch: http://www.cnn.com/TECH/9701/17/rocket.explosion/index.html [cnn.com] . And a Delta III had a rocket engine failure in 1999, which ruined the mission: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19990626&slug=2968601 [nwsource.com] . So the ability to detect an engine problem and shutdown before liftoff is again an amazing feat, and shows advancing technology. SpaceX is doing this right!

Re:Delta II blew up in 1997 (1)

JoeKlip (2566683) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051755)

The crack was in the solid rocket booster and once lit, it cannot be shut off. The liquid fuel engine, all launch vehivles have them, can be shut off by turning off the fuel pump thus starving it of fuel. All of today's rockets are bolted to the launch floor. Even with full thrust the rocket cannot take off until the bolt are cut. These are called pyrobolts because they have explosive which is used to sever the bolts.

Re:Delta II blew up in 1997 (1)

JoeKlip (2566683) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051787)

One more thing to add. The final launch sequence in the SpaceX is all automatically controlled. The control software monitors many signals and abort launch based on some set limits and rules.

What's with engine no. 5? (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051555)

I read somewhere that the problem was with (slightly?) high pressure in engine number 5 (out of nine). The commentator mentioned that on the first Falcon launch, the engine at the same position failed/had problems.

Does anyone know if it was the same (high pressure) problem? Is engine number 5 in an unusual spot (in the center?) that could cause it additional problems? (I don't know how the clustering of the engines are.). This is pretty wonky I know but I'm just curious if there is some correlation.

I also read somewhere that one of the reasons for the failure of the Russian mega-rocket, the N-1, which was to put their man on the moon first, was because the first stage had 30(!) engines and it was impossible (at that time) to control them all. By comparison, of course the Saturn V had 5 engines in its first stage (each generating a million and half pounds of thrust!). I would assume that modern digital systems have made these control problems a thing of the past and that the Falcon 9 is not vulnerable to that problem. So more is better right? Could the Falcon 9 have made it to orbit even losing one?

Re:What's with engine no. 5? (2)

mattr (78516) | more than 2 years ago | (#40051993)

In the post-scrub press conference SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell said that on flight 1 there was a high pressure problem on engine 5 IIRC but that it was trending differently from the way it did this time [so possibly a different cause]. They are going to open it up and check it out.
This has 9 engines and all are needed at liftoff, though after liftoff is achieved it can do without 1 or 2 engines she said. Either they will determine that the engine can be used as-is, or they might take an engine off a rocket they have in the garage and use it instead.

Re:What's with engine no. 5? (1)

SkyratesPlayer (1320895) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052301)

Yes, #5 is the center engine. And yes, the Falcon 9 is supposed to be able to lose an engine at any point and still complete the mission. (Assuming the engine shuts down in a relatively orderly manner, the feed valves close, so you still have the fuel and can throttle up the other engines to compensate.)

Re:What's with engine no. 5? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40052783)

They mentioned that they need all 9 for liftoff. They can go with 7 sometime after that.

Is it really that hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051569)

It's not as if it's brain surgery!

Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40052775)

Right.... it is only rocket science instead!

Launch window (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40051867)

I wonder if postponing the launch was actually a good thing, considering the one-second launch window cutting things close fuel-wise. That's assuming there's more leeway on the next launch window.

You could actually see the engines light (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052067)

Then everything shut down. Drive all that way at 0 dark thirty for a fizzle.

My first thought [imgur.com] when it was obvious the engines shut down.

Ah, the good old days when launching a rocket involved someone named "Hans" and a big red button.

Re:You could actually see the engines light (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#40052257)

Then everything shut down. Drive all that way at 0 dark thirty for a fizzle.

Hey, good for you though. All I did was set an alarm for an hour and a half after I went to sleep (late night at work). This launch, when it happens, will be Space Age 2.0, so it's a fairly momentous milestone. I would have gone out too if I were anywhere near local.

The event was actually still impressive. The announcer even called 'lift-off' then had to backpedal. I was similarly watching the UStream and thought, 'wait, it's not moving.' Then they switched video to the Space-X mission control (which is a bog-standard conference room with a bunch of desks with 3-panel 24" display holders). The Space-X guys went through their make-safe procedure and declared the vehicle safe within about two minutes.

I went back to bed feeling confident these guys know what they are doing. Elon is going to retire on Mars and sell half-million-dollar tourist flights - I can feel it. Time to start saving up (to hell with it - I'll live in a trailer for the last 5 years of my life, but I'll have been in orbit around Mars).

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