Elon Musk: “I Will Never Give Up” After Falcon 1 Loss

In a defiant message to his employees after Saturday’s Falcon 1 loss, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) said, “I will never give up and I mean never.” This statement, along with some positive details about what went right with the launch of the 47 tonne rocket, he outlined his plans for the future direction of the corporation. Interestingly, he also overviewed what went wrong with Flight 3 as it ascended through the atmosphere. According to Musk, the first Merlin 1C rocket stage performed perfectly, but the problem occurred during stage separation, causing the first and second stages to be held together for too long. An inquiry is under way…

Watching the live video feed from the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific a few hours ago was a frustrating experience. As reported by another reader of the Universe Today, the feed was low quality and pretty choppy, especially during the T-10 second countdown. But I was very excited all the same to see the Falcon 1 Merlin 1C engine light up (for two frames), blast out a puff of exhaust… only for it to stop and abort. This was at 8pm PST. According to Max Vozoff, SpaceX mission manager, some parameter was 1% out of “normal” operating limits so the Falcon 1 rocket shut down. Quickly, engineers were on the scene evaluating what had gone wrong. In an amazingly quick turn around, Vozoff had announced the ground crews were good to go and a new countdown would commence.

Within the hour, we were back to T-10 seconds and the Merlin engine blasted to life once more, this time with a lot more conviction. Before the female voice at mission control could say “two, one,” Falcon 1 had blasted off and powered away from the launchpad. It was an awesome sight (even if the video had become more choppy than before, probably due to online demand). The delight at mission control could be heard and the atmosphere was alight with enthusiasm.

But during the flight, 35 km off the ground and 140 seconds later, the video stream was suddenly cut. According to some viewers there was some anomalous rotation oscillations. Soon, we were back at mission control looking at the concerned faces of Max Vozoff and Emily Shanklin. Vozoff was listening to instructions from the flight controllers and eventually composed himself to say the following statement:

We are hearing from the launch control center that there has been an anomaly on the vehicle. We don’t have any information about what that anomaly is at this time. We will, of course, be doing an assessment of the situation and providing information as soon as it becomes available.” – Max Vozoff.

The anomaly, according to Musk, was with the stage separation not occurring when it should. The Merlin 1C engine in the first stage (which was completely designed from scratch by SpaceX) performed “picture perfect,” but the second stage rocket wasn’t able to prove itself as the launch had to be aborted. At this time, I am uncertain whether Falcon 1 was remotely destroyed or whether it was allowed to plunge into the ocean (although the latter option seems unlikely). We’ll know at a later date as to the details of this anomaly.

For now, our thoughts go out to the SpaceX scientists and engineers who have exhaustively put all their efforts into this third flight of the rocket (the previous two test flights also failed to varying degrees). For now, I’ll leave you with the full text of Elon Musk’s statement to his employees:

The full text of Saturday’s statement:

Plan Going Forward

It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight [Falcon 1, Flight 3]. On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect. Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together. This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened.

The most important message I’d like to send right now is that SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward. We have flight four of Falcon 1 almost ready for flight and flight five right behind that. I have also given the go ahead to begin fabrication of flight six. Falcon 9 development will also continue unabated, taking into account the lessons learned with Falcon 1. We have made great progress this past week with the successful nine engine firing.

As a precautionary measure to guard against the possibility of flight 3 not reaching orbit, SpaceX recently accepted a significant investment. Combined with our existing cash reserves, that ensures we will have more than sufficient funding on hand to continue launching Falcon 1 and develop Falcon 9 and Dragon. There should be absolutely zero question that SpaceX will prevail in reaching orbit and demonstrating reliable space transport. For my part, I will never give up and I mean never.

Thanks for your hard work and now on to flight four.


Source: SpaceX

21 Replies to “Elon Musk: “I Will Never Give Up” After Falcon 1 Loss”

  1. A great example of the drive, inspiration and determination needed to advance space exploration. This sort of focus is often overlooked , but it’s a key ingredient to fighting lethargy and complacency. Another reason private enterprise is essential to making significant advancements in space.

  2. I love the idea of spacex in the private sense of industry pulling this off but i’m less agreeable on the technological advancement since the goal of private industry is to commoditize the industry and not advance it. commodotizing some things is nice but it means slowing down the advancement for the sake of profits instead of accelerating advancement for a greater cause,

    is there a reason these investors just didn’t buy into current technology in hopes to lower costs vs re-inventing the wheel and hoping you could just do it cheaper?

  3. @Afonso

    Losing countless rockets, a fire in the Apollo and 2 space shuttles hasn’t killed NASA yet. Not to mention the failures of other boosters both for government and private flights.

  4. These guys have got spirit and faith!
    Hats off to you, onwards and upwards, to infinity and beyond!

  5. How could they ‘remotely destroy’ the rocket? Does it have some sort of mechanism for blowing itself up?

  6. Once they can fire a rocket into space, what do they plan on doing?
    I know of the test solar sail, which would be sweet, but do they have any other goals?
    Just curious, I don’t know much about the company at the moment, aside from what’s in this article.

  7. The government project, Nasa, had an incredible amount of political push behind it. They failed often and badly, but were given the resources and support to continue because it was unthinkable to leave space in Russian hands.

    SpaceX is in a far more precarious position. Mainly because NASA and the big aerospace names will be a difficult act to follow when your on a tight budget.
    They have the right attitude for pushing through this disappointment. I hope its rewarded with future success.

  8. I won’t say “I told you so” although I had a gut feeling this launch would fail. I think I may have even mentioned it here before. I didn’t like their explanation of the cause of the last failure and had a feeling they weren’t sure.
    Anyway, I hope this time they will truly understand the cause and move on as quickly as possible. Best of luck to Falcon and the others.

  9. It doesn’t matter if Elon Musk never gives up. It matters in quite a nontrivial way if investors give up on Elon Musk

  10. “I didn’t like their explanation of the cause of the last failure and had a feeling they weren’t sure.”

    It was (apparently) a failure to separate this time…last time separation occurred and most of the second stage burn completed before the vehicle became unstable and the engine cut out. I think it’s safe to say that the failures are unrelated. Fuel swirl or “something else”, whatever killed the last one didn’t have a chance to cause a problem this time.

    What exactly do you feel was wrong with their explanation? Their explanation seemed to match perfectly with what was visible from the video feed, and they have plenty of other telemetry to look at. It was overcompensating control logic plus fuel sloshing in a rapidly-emptying tank. This time, the failure happened much earlier, at separation.

  11. cjameshuff –
    Ah… Yep…You may be right… Completely different problems… It appears…
    I have also seen the video and read the telemetry (to an extent) of these three launches.
    I won’t say that the failures are unrelated, though.
    I think these problems are related…. They cut corners and they take more chances. They don’t test as much.. No prob, though…. I understand.
    I’m not criticizing the failure, I’m not… I really do sincerely wish them the best.. As soon as possible…, I’m just saying that I knew – with their track record- this mission will fail. They didn’t test it enough… and must admit… If I was in the same boat, I would have done the same thing..
    So if separation did occur this time, would the mission have been successful? Maybe they were just lucky with separation last time.
    They are almost there and I wish that I could be an “investor”…

  12. The failure of Falcon1’s third flight is a wake-up call for Elon Musk to spend more crucial/quality hours making sure every component in his space vehicle is working properly after installation and that they are installed correctly. And most important, he needs to either slow down his ambitious launch time table or take the pressure to-get-things-moving off his technicians or this sort of this is going to be his legacy. When people are pushed too hard their creative performance gets over taxed and obvious things get overlooked. If they are pushed for too long they will retaliate with a careless attitude. In such a scenario the trickle-down-stress caused by management’s over-ambition (and investor greed) would be to blame and not the employee(s). I’m not suggesting this is what happened: I just think it’s strange that after spending so many years perfecting an obviously ingenious space transportation system, they failed to recognize their first-stage/second-stage separation technology was defective. I remember recently on two occasions while Soyuz was returning to earth from the ISS separation between the Soyuz crew capsule and its lower propulsion module failed to occur on time when some of the explosive bolts failed to detonate. And had not atmospheric turbulence ripped away the partially loosened propulsion modules those two separate crews would have burned up in a horrible ballistic reentry! Also, it doesn’t hurt to pray to evoke Almighty God’s presence and guidance.

  13. If everything was going perfectly, I would be more concerned as failure is a very significant part of learning. We all have to fail to learn. All new innovation has to be tried and every major space launch vehicle has had significant failures.

    I congratulate the entire SpaceX team for getting this far and I for one am certain that, in the end they will succeed.

    But one thing seems to be missing. (Please correct me if I am wrong), but NASA should have their own engineers working alongside SpaceX to provide every possible assistance. There is no value to the USA to NASA standing back and watching; they should be right up there doing everything they can to see SpaceX succeed.

    Then again, if SpaceX succeeds without NASA, then how long will it be before everyone decides the SpaceX route is the better way to go with space exploration?

  14. Thats already obvious.
    The problem is making companies like SpaceX dependant on nasa resources and practices will shrink the value of having a private company in the first place. They wouldn’t be risking everything on trying out new ideas.

    You’d end up with Nasa .inc, and paying the same high prices.

  15. Anyone know who SpaceX is aggressively pursuing manned space flight already? Doesn’t that seem to be putting the cart before the horse?

    I’m guessing lucrative contracts

  16. Something great succeeds and everyone stands around slapping eachothers back. Something fails, and out of the woodwork come claims of corporate greed and corner cutting.

    Hey people, this IS rocket science.

  17. ^^ He has a point. How many times have gov’t rockets failed?

    I think its great that private companies are getting into spaceflight.



    This is what we need, more privately capitalized space exploration programs; and less NASA.

    The goal should be mining the moon (not digging up permafrost on Mars) and bring back those extremely valuable Helium 3 isotopes; we have known for decades this rare isotope (rare on Earth that is) represents a potentially tremendous lucrative energy source, clean and plentiful; and when it comes to energy that is one area that will always draw investment dollars, and grab the headlines!

    Be the first to mine the moon and return with Helium 3 and you will be the richest man in the history of our planet; while also saving ourselves from these polluting and politically dangerous fossil fuels in the centuries to come.

  19. ^^^

    If it weren’t so simple. You think foreign governments would let private industry mine the moon? I think not.

    Privatization is nice in a way, but it always comes at the lowest cost and space isn’t something you cut corners around.

    BTW, last time i checked NASA is heavily contracted to private industry so i don’t get the enthusiasm about SpaceX. It appears to be just as heavily aligned (and needs nasa to survive) with NASA as NASA’s core contractors. Its just a newcomer but no different than any other space company if you ask me.

    Cool to see a new company around but its still a chemical rocket brute forcing payloads to space and hoping they can simply refine it down so much that it just becomes commodotized & cheaper.

  20. “Once they can fire a rocket into space, what do they plan on doing?
    I know of the test solar sail, which would be sweet, but do they have any other goals?”

    Make money launching sattelites. On Falcon-1 and Falcon-9. And do it cheaper (though it’s no longer clear how much cheaper) than current launch providers. It’s basically as simple as that.

    But they also hope to provide post-Shuttle re-suply for ISS, including manned flights on Falcon-9 with their privately developed
    ‘Dragon’ capsule.

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