Friday, September 2, 2016

SpaceX Falcon 9 with Amos 6 Explodes at SLC-40

SpaceX Falcon 9 with Amos 6 Explodes at SLC-40. Credit:

SpaceX encountered a serious anomaly during the static test fire of the Falcon 9 rocket tasked with carrying the Amos-6 satellite. According to the 45th Space Wing, the accident occurred on Sept. 1 at 9:07 a.m. EDT (13:07 GMT) with images of billowing black smoke and flames appearing on social media outlets such as Twitter.

According to sources in and around Kennedy Space Center, individuals at nearby locations such as Playalinda Beach were ordered to remain indoors until the area had been deemed safe.

“The anomaly originated around the upper stage oxygen tank and occurred during propellant loading of the vehicle. Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad and there were no injuries,” SpaceX said via a statement issued early in the afternoon on Sept. 1.

As reported on CNN, this is similar to the 1997 loss of a Delta II rocket with the GPS-IIR-1 satellite for the United States Air Force Global Positioning System. That mission got underway from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 17A and lasted for about 13 seconds into the flight.

Then, as now, people were ordered to remain indoors. The Full Thrust Falcon 9 utilizes relatively benign sources of propellant (RP-1 – a highly-refined form of kerosene and liquid oxygen) Additionally, it appears the Amos-6 satellite was attached to the rocket and therefore lost. Typically, orders to remain indoors are issued for when hypergolics, which do appear to have been on the Amos-6 satellite, are used.

During the writing of this article, SpaceX issued the following statement, confirming that the Amos-6 satellite had indeed been lost:

“SpaceX can confirm that in preparation for today’s static fire, there was an anomaly on the pad resulting in the loss of the vehicle and its payload. Per standard procedure, the pad was clear and there were no injuries.”

SpaceX has carried out the static test fire, the critical last step before the rocket is launched, with and without the payload attached.

Images from SLC-40 show that the “strongback”, the structure that supports the Falcon 9 until just prior to launch was severely damaged during the explosion.

According to a tweet issued by SpaceX CEO and FOunder, Elon Musk, the accident actually got its start prior to the actual static test fire: “Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation. Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.” This statement was posted at 1:07 p.m. EDT (17:07 GMT).

Initial reports suggest that there were no causalities, nor was there any threat to public safety. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) Emergency Management is currently working on the initial on-scene response. Roadblocks have been set up in and around the Cape and officials with the 45th have asked that the public avoid using the entrance to CCAFS until further notice.

This is the second accident that SpaceX has encountered in roughly the past 14 months. On June 28, 2015 a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its CRS-7 Dragon spacecraft cargo were lost 139 seconds into the flight when a strut holding a helium tank in the rocket’s second stage failed.

SpaceX has made a name for itself as it is the only launch service provider to have successfully launched payloads to orbit via the Falcon 9 – and then have the rocket’s first stage conduct a landing. These landings have either occurred at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 (formerly Space Launch Complex 36) or on one of the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships that have been positioned out in the Atlantic Ocean. To date, SpaceX has successfully landed six of the first stages.

SpaceX had been planning on reusing a flown stage as early as this fall, it is unclear what today’s accident will play on the remainder of the Hawthorne, California-based company’s 2016 launch manifest.

“We are continuing to review the data to identify the root cause. Additional updates will be provided as they become available,” SpaceX said via their statement.

In terms of Amos-6, the mission would have seen the Falcon 9 rocket place the satellite in a a geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite, the second to use the Amos-4000 platform, was planned to have an operational life of about 15 years. Amos-6 was built by Israel Aerospace Industries and, according to Space News, would have seen Eutelsat pay some $95 million over the course of about 5 years for the lease of Ka-band spot-beam broadband capacity.

Estimates by Spacecom placed the cost of launching, insuring and operating Amos 6 for a period of about a year at around $85 million. According to a report posted on Globes, the satellite itself cost about $200 million to produce.

Written by: Jason Rhian
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