SpaceX Falcon 9 Test Fire Ends with Abort

Updated at 9:40 EST Tuesday:

SpaceX just released the official word on what happened with Tuesday’s 3.5 second test-fire of the Falcon 9 rocket. The test aborted immediately after it started, and a a spin start system failure forced the early shutdown. The Falcon 9 sits on Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and from the Kennedy Space Center press site, (about 4 miles away) a muffled bang was heard at the time of ignition, 1:41 pm EST. “Today SpaceX performed our first Static Fire for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle,” said Emily Shankin from SpaceX in a press release. “We counted down to an T-2 seconds and aborted on Spin Start. Given that this was our first abort event on this pad, we decided to scrub for the day to get a good look at the rocket before trying again. Everything looks great at first glance.”

An online webcam on showed a brief flash and a small cloud of smoke, and then nothing. Other observers at the site said it appeared as if flight computers detected a problem and automatically shut down the engines before the test was completed. The test-firing is considered a major objective towards the first launch of the Falcon 9, now tentatively scheduled for March 22, but SpaceX officials say launch is more likely to occur in April.

Here’s the rest of SpaceX’s press release:

We completed pad preps on time and with good execution. The integrated countdown with the range included holdfire checks, S- band telemetry, C-band, and FTS simulated checks. We completed helium, liquid oxygen (LOX), and fuel loads to within tenths of a percent of T-zero conditions. Tanks pressed nominally and we passed all Terminal count, flight software, and ground software abort checks right down to T-2 seconds. We encountered a problem with the spin start system and aborted nominally.

As part of the abort, we close the pre-valves to isolate the engines from the propellant tank and purge the residual propellants. The brief flames seen on the video are burn off of LOX and kerosene on the pad. The engines did not ignite and there was no engine fire.

We detanked and safed the vehicle and launch pad. Preliminary review shows all other systems required to reach full ignition were within specification. All other pad systems worked nominally. Inspections will be complete tonight. Tomorrow will consist of data review and procedure updates. Commodities will be replenished tomorrow including TEA TEB load, LOX and helium deliveries.

We’ll look to do the next static fire attempt in three or four days.

The Falcon 9 rocket measures 47 meters long (154 feet) and 4 meters (12 feet) wide, and for the upcoming test launch the payload will be a dummy of the company’s Dragon capsule being developed to carry equipment to the International Space Station for NASA.

The nine Merlin 1C engines will produce about 825,000 pounds of total thrust, about four times the power of a 747 jumbo jet at full throttle. The engines consume about 3,200 pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants per second, according to SpaceX.

12 Replies to “SpaceX Falcon 9 Test Fire Ends with Abort”

  1. Nuts. I was hoping that they’d get it the first try. Ah well, there have been plenty of bumps in the road up to this point, so why not a few more? 😉

  2. Bummer. But there’s a lot of parts that must work up to that point. Next time it likely will go well – and as opposed to Falcon-1 there doesn’t seem to be major design changes expected during the design burn-in period.

    I’ll keep my burners crossed!

    @ renoor:

    On the contrary, there is a lot of design in these. Stir-weld tanks, hold down on and confirmation of engine start, and redundant engines.

    I believe you mean that these commercial rockets’ design is strictly utilitarian. Compared with it’s competition though, say Ariane 5, I believe it looks positively elegant. And with the payload fairing on Falcon 9 looks IMHO great!

    I’ll admit the Falcon 9 Heavy lacks a certain je ne sais quois.

  3. Remember that NASA too had early failures some of which were spectacular. Didn’t the first seven or eight of the Atlas-Able/Atlas-Pioneer either explode or fail to get off mthe ground? Then there was the [in]famous Mercury-Redstone event where the rocket rose to a magnificent four inches before getting tired and refusing to go any further. The top flipped off, the parachutes cascaded down the side of the craft and it sat there all fueled up waiting to go bang. Luckily it didn’t. Early days, Falcon, early days.

  4. Best to catch it early! That’s what the ground test firings all about.. right? Go Falcon 9!

  5. Found a book with an okay definition.

    A Spin Start uses an auxiliary power source to provide the initial buildup of turbine speed… – Vice a “Tank-Head” start that uses propellants out of the main tanks for initial turbine power.

  6. I have to say, if they can launch it at the first go, I will be impressed since it is not an easy task.

    I rarely see things work on the first go in private companies. Mostly because of the rush caused by managment to get shareholder results.

    Bets is not rush it and thake their time. At the end you only get the biggest gain instead of a rush job.

  7. The presidents administration unwittingly thrust all commercial vendors into the spot light as an alternative to the business as usual contractors.

    …So, with the eyes of the world on them, hopefully SpaceX will get this right the first time.
    Accidents at this point would be extremely bad for the US space program. At least from the political standpoint.

  8. Maxwell.
    I couldn’t agree more.. As angry as I am with the current administration.. with what they are trying to pull (but don’t think Congress will let them do it), I do wish SpaceX complete success with their first launch.. They may even have a short term monopoly if the get it right so I am confident they will try their best… Although I’m not confident they will succeed on their first try… But I really do wish them the best… And we need more like them.
    We still need heavy lifters, though.. And we need a timetable for our short and long term goals. That would also help the current admin…

  9. @Torbjorn:
    my comment was just about the visual design 🙂 I agree that with the fairing it looks better (surely better than Ares)
    as for the technical design, it must be a great piece of hardware according to the specification.

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