Falcon 9 Mishap
Sunday morning a Falcon 9 rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station experienced a catastrophic failure 2:19 into its flight.
Anyone watching the launch would have to admit that this all happened rather fast with no real warning in advance that anything was amiss.
The Falcon 9 was at an altitude of approximately 45 km and traveling in excess of 5,000 km per hour when a problem developed in the second stage. SpaceRef can confirm from sources within SpaceX that the Falcon 9 first stage performed nominally i.e. as expected. Indeed, if you watch launch video, you can see that first stage continues to function steady and stable even while the front end of the rocket was destroying itself. That in and of itself is impressive.
According to SpaceX telemetry received from the Dragon spacecraft showed that it too was functioning after the mishap occurred and telemetry continued to be sent back from Dragon for a significant period of time.
SpaceX now confirms that the U.S. Air Force Range Safety Officer did initiate a destruct command but that this command was sent 70 seconds after the mishap occurred, as a formal matter of process. There was nothing left to destroy at that point. NASA Public Affairs had originally told SpaceRef yesterday that there had been no such command issued by the USAF.
SpaceX ships originally in place to attempt to recover the first stage for reuse are now engaged approximately 100 miles offshore in debris location and collection activities. If, by any chance you think you have located debris contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-392-0035.
In the near term SpaceX will be supporting daily meetings with NASA, the FAA, and the U.S. Air Force. A formal FAA mishap investigation process is guiding these activities.
Investigation teams have already been organized and are starting to examine over 3,000 channels of telemetry data and video received from the Falcon 9 and Dragon during their short flight. A detailed timeline of events will be assembled as this data is analyzed. SpaceX is also taking a close look at the history of this Falcon 9 launch vehicle throughout its manufacture, integration, and processing.
As for the specific cause of the mishap - no one knows anything for certain yet - it is far too early to arrive at any conclusions in this regard. That said the attitude inside of SpaceX is positive and everyone is looking to find out what happened, fix it, and get back to launching spaceships again.