A Merlin engine shut down during the first stage of an otherwise successful launch of SpaceX's Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.
"Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night's launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first-stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket's nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued, " SpaceX said in a statement emailed to PCMag.
The private space contractor said the engine in question did not explode, as Ars Technica speculated. The tech site pointed to slowed-down video of the launch (below) that showed what looked to be material breaking off of the rocket after a visible flare-up. But in its statement, SpaceX attributed the debris to "panels designed to relieve pressure within the engine bay [that] were ejected to protect the stage and other engines."
"We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it, " SpaceX said. "Our review of flight data indicates that neither the rocket stage nor any of the other eight engines were negatively affected by this event."
SpaceX conducted its first successful rendezvous with the ISS earlier this year in a demo flight that was heralded as a major milestone in a new era of private-public collaboration on space exploration. The current mission is the company's first, official journey to the orbiting space lab as part of its $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly 12 missions to the ISS through 2016.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:35 p.m. Eastern Sunday and is now en route to the space station carrying 882 pounds of supplies, including 260 pounds of crew supplies, 390 pounds of scientific research, 225 pounds of hardware, and several pounds of other supplies.
Dragon is expected to arrive at the ISS on Wednesday morning and be attached via the station's robotic arm at 7:22 a.m., according to NASA. It will remain there for 18 days before it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean upon its return with 1, 673 pounds of cargo.
Despite the engine anomaly, SpaceX said the Dragon's estimated arrival at the ISS remained unchanged.
"As designed, the flight computer ... recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon's entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission, " the company said.
"Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V (which experienced engine loss on two flights) and modern airliners, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission. No other rocket currently flying has this ability, " SpaceX continued.
"It is worth noting that Falcon 9 shuts down two of its engines to limit acceleration to 5 g's even on a fully nominal flight. The rocket could therefore have lost another engine and still completed its mission."
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