SpaceX wrapping up Falcon 9 second stage investigation as it moves on from Grasshopper

May 4, 2013 – 12:12 pm

F9 v1.1 1st stage near splashdownSpaceX is expected to complete its investigation into why the second stage engine on the Falcon 9 launched last month didn’t relight as planned, while the company also moves on from its Grasshopper reusable test vehicle, a company executive said this week.

Speaking at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on Wednesday, SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell discussed the company’s most recent launch, the inaugural flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1 on September 29 from Vandenberg Air Force Base. While billed as an upgraded version of the original Falcon 9, she acknowledged that it was, in essence, a new launch vehicle. “We called it the version 1.1 to not scare anybody, but it’s really like the version 1001, ” she said. “It was quite a different vehicle.”

ShotwellWhile the launch was a success, placing the Canadian CASSIOPE space weather and technology demonstration satellite and several small secondary payloads into orbit, the vehicle’s second stage engine failed to relight after satellite deployment as a test. That failed relight attracted scrutiny from some observers, particularly after Air Force satellite tracking indicated the existence of a number of additional objects beyond the satellites and upper stage, which some interpreted as debris from the upper stage that may have been linked to the failed reflight.

Shotwell, talking to reporters after her ISPCS speech, said the investigation into the failed relight is nearly complete. “We should finish up on Friday, ” she said, a timeline that would given insurers enough time to review the report before the company’s next scheduled launch, of the SES-8 commercial communications satellite, now planned for November 12. Unlike the CASSIOPE mission, the SES-8 launch, as well as another commercial communications satellite planned for launch in December, will require the second stage engine to relight to place the satellites into the proper geostationary transfer orbit.


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  • avatar Can you tell me when SpaceX's Elon Musk vowed to make orbit?
    • A private company called SpaceX launched its 3rd rocket which failed a few minutes after launch. Stages failed to separate in the rocket, which caused the rocket to go off course and fail structurally. It was launched from an island in the Pacific Ocean, so there is no danger of debris falling on populated areas. I am sure the company is insured for such an eventuality.