SpaceX Acknowledges Rocket Engine Anomaly During Dec. 2010 Launch

December 14, 2015 – 08:00 pm
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force station launch pad.SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on Dec. 8, 2010, with the company's first Dragon spacecraft. Three hours and 20 minutes later, the capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, marking a first for a non-governmental entity.

During the August meeting, held at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, SpaceX told the two advisory bodies that there had been an engine anomaly during the most recent Falcon 9 launch, said Charles Daniel, a shuttle and space station safety expert at Herndon, Va.-based Valador Inc., and a member of the ISS Advisory Committee.

“There was no explanation or root cause analysis or corrective action for this particular anomaly, ” Daniel said Sept. 9 during the public meeting. “This is a relatively troublesome statement not to recognize that a premature engine shutdown was a significant event.”

SpaceX disputes Daniel’s characterization of the engine anomaly as a premature shutdown.

“We did not have a premature engine shutdown, ” Bowersox told Space News.

Bowersox also said SpaceX informed NASA of the engine anomaly right away.

“This information was presented to NASA and to the [Federal Aviation Administration] not too long after the mission, ” Bowersox said. “But it didn’t go to the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, it went to some of the different NASA programs that we work with.”

SpaceX spokesman Robert Block said that NASA received a briefing about the flight Dec. 15. SpaceX subsequently delivered full-rate telemetry for the flight on Dec. 28. A full flight report to the agency followed on Feb. 24, Block said.

The company Daniel works for, Valador Inc., was sued in June by SpaceX in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court. SpaceX brought the suit forward after another Valador vice president, Joseph Fragola, made what SpaceX said were defamatory statements about the safety and reliability of the Falcon 9.

The suit was settled out of court in early August.

According to SpaceX’s complaint, Fragola on June 8 emailed Bryan O’Connor, then NASA’s chief of safety and mission assurance, saying he was trying to verify a rumor that the Falcon 9’s first stage experienced a significant anomaly during its Dec. 8 mission.

“I have just heard a rumor, and I am trying now to check its veracity, that the Falcon 9 experienced a double engine failure in the first stage and that the entire stage blew up just after the first stage separated. I also heard that this information was being held from NASA until SpaceX can ‘verify’ it, ” Fragola wrote O’Connor, according to court papers.


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