SpaceX Falcon 9 Explosion Aftermath Brings Legal Battles

SpaceX experienced a rather serious setback last week as a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad while preparing for a static fire test. The launch was meant to deploy one of Spacecom latest communications satellites (AMOS-6), which was also destroyed in the accident. Mercifully, no one was hurt, and an investigation was quickly mounted to determine the root cause.

However, in the aftermath of the explosion, it appears that SpaceX could be facing legal battles, as Spacecom indicated that it is seeking compensation for the loss of their satellite. According to a recent press released by the Israel-based telecommunications company, this will either take the form of $50 million, or a free flight aboard another SpaceX launch.

As the sixth satellite to be launched by the telecommunications company, the AMOS-6 satellite was intended to provide phone, video and internet services for the Middle East, Europe, and locations across sub-Sahara Africa. As such, it’s destruction was certainly a loss for the company.

A Falcon 9 test firing its nine first-stage Merlin engines at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Feb of 2015. Credit: NASA/Frankie Martin
A Falcon 9 test firing its nine first-stage Merlin engines at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Feb of 2015. Credit: NASA/Frankie Martin

But as they stated in their press release – which was released on Monday, Sept. 5th – their plan is “to recover funds invested in the project” and to replace the satellite as soon as possible. As David Pollack, Spacecom CEO and president, was quoted as saying:

“Spacecom has crafted a plan of action which represents the foundation upon which we shall recover from AMOS-6’s loss. Our program includes, among other measures, exploring the possibility of procuring and launching a replacement satellite. Working quickly and efficiently, management is engaging with current and potential partner. Spacecom will serve all of its current and future financial commitments.”

In addition to covering their losses, these moves are clearly intended to ensure that the company can still move ahead with its planned merger. Prior to the launch, Spacecom was engaged in talks with the Beijing Xinwei Group – a Chinese telecommunications company – about being acquired for $285 million. One of the conditions of this deal was the successful launch of the AMOS-6 and completion of in orbit testing.

As Pollack told the Financial Times, his company is still in the process of negotiating the merger, but the price may come down as a result of the loss. “We are speaking to them;” he said, “we are trying to adapt it to the new situation. It definitely might go ahead… everybody is trying to keep the deal”.

The damaged gantry at the SpaceX  launch pad after the explosion. Credit: Karla Thompson
The damaged gantry at the SpaceX launch pad after the explosion. Credit: Karla Thompson

Spacecom has also suggested that the firm might pursue an additional $205 million in compensation from Israel Aerospace Industries, which manufactured the satellite. Not surprising, since the price of their stock had dropped by over a third since the accident took place.

Since the accident took place, SpaceX has been keeping the public updated on the results of their investigation. On Friday, Sept 2nd, they released the latest finds, which included where the problems began:

“The anomaly on the pad resulted in the loss of the vehicle. This was part of a standard pre-launch static fire to demonstrate the health of the vehicle prior to an eventual launch. At the time of the loss, the launch vehicle was vertical and in the process of being fueled for the test.  At this time, the data indicates the anomaly originated around the upper stage liquid oxygen tank.  Per standard operating procedure, all personnel were clear of the pad.  There were no injuries.”

No indications have been given yet as to what could have caused the tanks to explode, but the company is still processing the data and posting updates on a regular basis. In any event, the recent accident appears to have been a minor setback for the private aerospace giant, which will be pushing ahead with a full year of launch contracts.

This will likely include the first launch of the Falcon Heavy, which is expected to take place before 2016 is out.

Further Reading: Amos-Spacecom, FT Times

SpaceX Sets Ambitious Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ Agenda with Dual December Blastoffs

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket after successful static hot-fire test on June 13 on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL.  Launch is slated for Friday, June 20, 2014  on ORBCOMM OG2 mission with six OG2 satellites. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX ‘Return to Flight’ launch upcoming in December 2015 features 11 ORBCOMM satellites. SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL, prior to launch on July 14, 2014 on prior ORBCOMM OG2 mission with six OG2 satellites. The USAF has certified the Falcon 9 to compete for US national security launches. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SpaceX plans an ambitious ‘Return to Flight’ agenda with their Falcon 9 rocket comprising dual launches this coming December, nearly six months after their failed launch in June 2015 that culminated in the total mid-air loss of the rocket and NASA cargo bound for the crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The double barreled salvo of Falcon 9 blastoffs both involve launches of commercial communications satellites – first for Orbcomm followed by SES – and are specifically devised to allow a gradually ramp up in complexity, as SpaceX introduces fixes for the launch failure and multiple improvements to the boosters overall design. Continue reading “SpaceX Sets Ambitious Falcon 9 ‘Return to Flight’ Agenda with Dual December Blastoffs”

Russian Progress Supply Freighter Docks at Space Station, Ending String of International Launch Failures

Over three tons of much needed supplies and equipment finally reached the crew living aboard the International Space Station (ISS), when an unmanned and highly anticipated Russian Progress cargo ship successfully docked at the orbiting outpost early this morning, Sunday July 5, at 3:11 a.m. EDT (10:11 MSK, Moscow local time)- to all the partners relief.

This follows two straight international resupply launch failures that significantly crimped the stations stockpiles and abruptly impacted upcoming crew rotations and station launches throughout the remainder of 2015.

Today’s arrival of Russia’s Progress 60 (Progress M-28M) logistics vehicle ended a string of Russian and American resupply mission failures that began some two months ago with the devastating Soyuz rocket launch failure of the prior Progress 59 ship on April 28, and continued with the mid-air explosion of a commercial SpaceX Falcon 9 and unpiloted SpaceX Dragon CRS-7 cargo ship exactly one week ago on June 28.

The Progress 60 was automatically docked at an earth facing port on the Russian “Pirs” docking module on the Russian segment of the ISS – that finally puts the station on the road to recovery with a stockpile of 6100 pounds (2770 kg) of new fuel, food, oxygen, research experiments and gear.

“The operation was carried out in an automated mode,” according to Russian Mission Control near Moscow.

The docking operation was conducted under the guidance of the Russian ISS Expedition 44 commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Mikhail Kornienko as well as experts at the Russian Mission Control Center, as the vehicles were soaring about 251 miles (400 km) over the south Pacific, southeast of New Zealand. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is also aboard, rounding out the current three man crew.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from docking to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from docking to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

The successful docking came two days after the blastoff of the unmanned Progress 60 cargo freighter atop a Soyuz-U booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3. This signifies the restoration of Russia’s critical cargo lifeline to the ISS and was like celebrating Christmas in July.

“Guys, congratulations. your cargo vehicle has arrived,” said Russian flight director Vladimir Solovyev from Russian mission control.

“We congratulate you as well,” cosmonaut Gennady Padalka replied from inside the station’s Russian-built Zvezda command module. “Thanks so much for sending it our way. It feels like Christmas in July.”

The station is totally dependent on a regular train of supply runs from the partner nations on Earth to operate with a crew and conduct research investigations that will aid in sending humans to deep space destinations.

The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is now docked to the Pirs docking compartment. Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Progress 60 cargo craft is now docked to the Pirs docking compartment shown in this schematic. Credit: NASA TV

America’s cargo lifeline is currently on hold following the dual launch failures of both US commercial supply trains to low Earth orbit- involving the SpaceX Falcon 9 last week and the catastrophic Orbital ATK Antares/Cygnus Orb-3 mission launch disaster on October 28, 2014 which I saw at NASA Wallops.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon exploded barely two minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The rocket disintegrated in mere moments as I watched from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

All told, an unprecedented trio of launch failures with three different American and Russian rockets took place over the past eight months.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left).  Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo spaceship dazzled in the moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 28, 2015 but were soon doomed to a sudden catastrophic destruction barely two minutes later in the inset photo (left). Composite image includes up close launch photo taken from pad camera set at Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and mid-air explosion photo taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida as rocket was streaking to the International Space Station (ISS) on CRS-7 cargo resupply mission. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Progress 60 resupply ship was loaded with over three tons of food, fuel, oxygen, science experiments, water and supplies on a crucial mission for the International Space Station crew to keep them stocked with urgently needed life support provisions and science experiments in the wake of the twin launch failures in April and June.

The ISS Progress M-28M (Progress 60) cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from successful docking to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The ISS Progress M-28M (Progress 60) cargo craft is seen just a few minutes away from successful docking to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos
The ship delivered approximately 1,146 pounds (520 kg) of propellant, 105 pounds (48 kg) of oxygen, 926 pounds (420 kg) of water and 3,071 pounds (1393 kg) pounds of crew supplies, provisions, research equipment, science experiments, student experiments, tools and spare parts and parcels for the crew.

The Progress was stuffed with 100 kg of additional food stocks to make up for the losses suffered from the twin Russian Progress 59 and SpaceX CRS-7 failures.

“As for food, 430 kilos of foodstuffs will be delivered to the ISS or 100 kilos more than the amount delivered by the previous spacecraft,” noted Mission Control.

“The Progress space freighter will deliver more food than usual so that it will suffice for everyone,” Alexander Agureyev, chief of the ISS crew nourishment department at the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, told the Russian news agency TASS.

Progress 60 is scheduled to remain docked to Pirs for the next four months.

In the wake of the trio of American and Russian launch failures, the crew currently enjoys only about four months of reserves compared to the more desirable six months stockpile in case of launch mishaps.

Progress 60 will extend the station supplies by about a month’s time.

The next cargo ship now slated to launch is the Japanese HTV-5 on August 16.

Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos
Blastoff of the Russian Progress 60 resupply ship to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 3, 2015. Credit: Roscosmos

The SpaceX CRS-7 Dragon was packed with over 4,000 pounds (1987 kg) of research experiments, an EVA spacesuit, water filtration equipment, spare parts, gear, computer equipment, high pressure tanks of oxygen and nitrogen supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45.

These included critical materials for the science and research investigations for the first ever one-year crew to serve aboard the ISS – comprising NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

The Dragon was also packed with the first of two new International Docking Adapters (IDS’s) required for the new commercial crew space taxis being built by Boeing and SpaceX to dock at the ISS starting in 2017.

The next crewed launch to the station is set for July 22 aboard a Soyuz capsule with with an international trio comprising NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Their flight was delayed from May 26 after the Progress 59 launch failure to ensure that there are no issues with the Soyuz rocket booster that will boost them to the ISS.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

SpaceX Dragon Destroyed in Catastrophic Explosion Soon After Florida Blastoff

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship loaded with critical supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) were destroyed by a catastrophic explosion starting approximately 148 seconds after a successful blastoff today, June 28, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:21 a.m. EDT.

“Eastern Range confirms the Falcon 9 and Dragon vehicle broke up,” according to the USAF Eastern Range, 45th Space Wing as the vehicle was in flight and the first stage was firing.

The failure was immediately obvious to all of us watching the launch live on site from the Kennedy Space Center press site when the rocket disappeared into a expanding white cloud that was totally abnormal. See my launch and explosion photos herein.

“At this point, it’s not clear to the launch team exactly what happened,” NASA Launch Commentator George Diller reported on the live NASA TV broadcast.

It was the third launch failure of a cargo delivery run to the space station in the past half year -including both American and Russian rockets.

The Falcon 9 stopped ascending and broke apart and an abnormal vapor streak formed ahead of the rockets planned ascent path to orbit.

Within moments falling debris was visible in eyewitness photos from multiple angles.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket explodes about 2 minutes after liftoff from Cape Canaveral on June 28, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data,” tweeted SpaceX CEO Elon Musk soon after the explosion.

The pressurized section of the Dragon was packed with over 4,000 pounds of research experiments, spare parts, gear, high pressure supply gases, food, water and clothing for the astronaut and cosmonaut crews comprising Expeditions 44 and 45 on the ISS.

Details to follow

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of the CRS-7 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about SpaceX, Boeing, Space Taxis, Europa, Rosetta, Mars rovers, Orion, SLS, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Jun 28: “SpaceX launch, Orion, Commercial crew, Curiosity explores Mars, Antares and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings