Following an ontime liftoff at 10:21am on Sunday morning, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying an unmanned Dragon cargo vehicle broke apart over the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon’s first two minutes of its flight to the International Space Station were flawless; however, approximately 139 seconds into the mission and just prior to the first stage separation, the vehicle disintegrated.
This is the first failure of the Falcon 9 for the California-based SpaceX. Since its maiden liftoff in 2010, the company has celebrated a total of 18 successful launches. The Falcon 9 rocket is composed of two stages, with the first stage shut down—also known as main engine cutoff (MECO)—occurring approximately 159 seconds into the flight. However, approximately 20 seconds before that, the vehicle experienced an anomaly.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted an update soon after saying, “Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before the first stage shutdown. There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.”
In a post-incident press briefing, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told members of the media, “We do not expect this to be a first stage issue. We saw some pressurization indications in the second stage which we will be investigating.”
On screen telemetry posted during the live webcast showed the vehicle reached an altitude of 45 kilometers and traveled approximately 4, 700 kilometers per hour. The launch footage appears to show the Dragon separating from the Falcon following the anomaly. Shotwell added, “We did receive telemetry from Dragon after the anomaly occurred.”
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