Spaceflight Insider

Elon Musk talks CRS 7 disaster at ISSRDC

Elon Musk Falcon 9 Dragon launch Cape Canaveral Launch Control Center SpaceX photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Elon Musk discussed the June 28 loss of a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 and Dragon spacecraft that were carrying out the CRS-7 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station during an interview held at ISSRDC 2015. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) CEO and Founder Elon Musk sat down for a “fireside chat” with NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager, Michael Suffredini, during the 2015 International Space Station Research Development Conference (ISSRDC 2015 ) to review various aspects of the NewSpace company’s efforts. During the roughly hour-long presentation, Musk discussed the June 28, 2015, accident which saw the complete loss of a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft that it carried.

“Obviously, it’s a huge blow to SpaceX; we take these missions incredibly seriously. Everyone that can be engaged in the investigation into the accident is focused on that. In this case, the data does appear to be quite difficult to interpret. What happened is not just a simple, straightforward sort of thing.

“We want to spend as much time as possible just reviewing the data, obviously going over it with NASA, the FAA, and our other customers and seeing what sort of feedback they have based on their prior experience. [We want] to see if we can get to what the root cause is. We’ll take a look at what most likely happened and anything that’s a close call and try to address all of those things to maximize the probability of success on future missions.”

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida with a Dragon spacecraft on the CRS 7 mission photo credit Mike Deep SpaceFlight Insider

In five years’ time, the Falcon 9 has only encountered a single failure. Photo Credit: Mike Deep / SpaceFlight Insider

Suffredini then asked Musk if there were any hints as to where the problem was. Musk noted that there were media in the audience (Musk has had issues with journalists in the past). He then stated that the company would be able to say something more definitively by the end of the week (the interview took place on July 8, and SpaceX has since announced that a teleconference will take place this coming week).

For staunch supporters of the firm, an array of potential causes for the accident have been submitted. Musk, however, deflated those attempts with the following statement:

“At this point, the only thing that is clear is that there was some sort of overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. The exact cause and the sequence of events […] there’s still no clear theory that fits with all of the data.

“We have to determine if some of the data is a measurement error of some kind or whether there’s a theory that matches what appear to be conflicting data points.”

Suffredini noted that Musk’s habit of commenting on Twitter had been useful and appreciated. Indeed, it was Musk’s tweets that gave the public their first hints as to what had gone wrong during last month’s flight. Musk also noted that when the exact cause of the accident has been determined, it will be announced.

“As soon as we have a good line on what has happened and we have crosschecked it with as many experts as we can, and we certainly appreciate the feedback from NASA on those fronts.”

In 2008, NASA signed a $1.6 billion agreement with SpaceX to have the firm use its Falcon 9 and Dragon combination to conduct 12 cargo flights to the orbiting laboratory. To date, SpaceX has launched different versions of the Falcon 9 booster 19 times – 18 of which successfully carried out their primary objectives.

Video courtesy of ISSCASIS


Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Very good article

Mark Heideman

Has anyone considered the possibility it was destroyed by the ufo seen leaving the exhaust plume just as it was exploding? I know there are no such things as UFO’s but am I the only person who see’s it?

The object you saw was the Dragon capsule. It survived the explosion, and continued to talk to controllers on the radio, but unfortunately wasn’t programmed to save itself during a launch even if the chutes were undamaged. Obviously this was the “cargo” version, the new crew version is indeed programmed to escape.

It really was kind of sad that the chutes could not be triggered or that they were not using V2.
It would have been an interesting testament to what SpaceX designs and builds.

Before we cry too much that they weren’t using the crew capsule, let’s remember that:

1. The crew capsule has a smaller door so that it can use the genderless docking port. It can dock directly with another crew capsule, or to ISS without assistance from inside of the station. But this limits the size of cargo to an 800 mm circle. The cargo capsule has a larger door, I think a bit more than 1 meter, and has to be “berthed” rather than docked. This means someone grabs it with the Canadarm and holds it against ISS, where it is bolted to the ship before the door is opened. The larger door means that the cargo capsule can handle equipment racks, which won’t fit the smaller one. There will continue to be some version of cargo Dragons after Crew Dragon is flying because of this. But the cargo Dragon components are likely to be unified with the crew version ones as much as possible, for manufacturing simplicity’s sake.

2. Escape rockets and other components of the crew Dragaon subtract from the maximum payload weight. It might not make economic sense to send them on cargo Dragon.

3. Yes, we saw the capsule fall off, but some people think they saw the drogue chutes deploy as it fell. In which case they were probably damaged and unusable.

Elon said in the conference call yesterday the Dragon would indeed have survied if programmed to pop the chute.

This picture of what Elon calls a major second stage liquid oxygen pressure release I keep getting this picture. The vanes that is used to help control the descent of the second stage, has somehow caused a negative pressure on the metal where it is joined, in turn a weak part in a weld gave way. That is why you see liquid oxygen in the form of a white mist just before the breakup.

The grid fins are on the first stage. The second stage doesn’t re-enter. It can’t do so from as high as it gets without a heat shield, and it doesn’t have one.

I’m struck by the fact it apparently took this site 10 days to report this. Here I was reading it thinking it was an update but its old news.

I fully agree, old news. Just filler. Next time, just write, “No new info” and save us the time re-reading.

I think they should consider programming unmanned capsules to save themselves. How much would that lessen the blow to everyone if they had simply been able to scoop up the cargo, check it over and try again? Also consider landing the falcon 9 on its side instead of vertically.

I am temped to agree but it is not quite as simple as it sounds. “easier said than done”, but it is not impossible and might be affordable. Make it a feature to get cheaper insurance rates. Of course some missions dont have the margin for the excess weight, such as the ones already that could not even try to land the 1st stage (as explained elsewhere).

Gary, Let me make a better try at an answer.
First, I also agree that it might be a good idea to have the Cargo Dragon “Pop Chutes” and save itself. Here is the problem. With out the Super Dracos from the Crew Dragon the capsule has no way to ensure it is high enough to make a difference if the accident happens shortly after launch. Also It would probably require the same level of thrusters to properly right and stabilize the capsule for chute deployment. Without doing so the chutes could foul or flare and be ineffectual. Adding Super Dracos would cost weight which would work against both Cargo capacity contracted for and/or Stage 1 recovery margins.

Second, Certifying hardware for space is a complex, rigorous, and expensive task. Even a new item off the clean room table takes a critical path through certification. The concept of rectifying an element that was recovered from a crash may prove far more expensive than anyone dreams and in most cases not be cost effective. There are items that it may make sense for if push comes to shove. One of the items lost in the mishap was a special filter used in the water recycling system. They are complex filters and not mass produced. NASA orders them as needed while keeping one or two on hand. One was lost in the Oct 2014 Antares loss and now another with the Dragon. The filter now aboard the station is showing signs of being “used up”. NASA has another in production and will shift to more water usage and less recycling as need be. They have a good supply of water on hand.

Third, We are way, way past discussions of Landing the Stage 1 Booster horizontally. It requires wings and some type of landing gear or multiple chutes and air bags or ocean landing. All of these scenarios expose the booster to excess stress or saltwater. All would again work against reuseability and margins.

Gary Warburton

Yes, it might be a good reason to have a cargo version of the Dragon V2 which could have saved the cargo in event of such a disaster. I also wonder if it would have been possible to save the first stage with similar warning system that might have initiated separation ahead of time and brought it back for a landing. From watching the slow motion video of the explosion one can see the first stage working normally right up until the time some of the shrapnel from the second stage explosion initiates an explosion in the first stage.

Gary Warburton

Yes, it might be a good reason to have a cargo version of the Dragon V2 which could have saved the cargo in event of such a disaster. I also wonder if it would have been possible to save the first stage with similar warning system that might have initiated separation ahead of time and brought it back for a landing. From watching the slow motion video of the explosion one can see the first stage working normally right up until the time some of the shrapnel from the second stage explosion initiates an explosion in the first stage.

It says I already said that but I didn`t.

why would they want to land the F9’s first stage on its side?
Right now, all they had to add was 4 legs and little bit of fuel.
To do a ‘side’ landing would be expensive in terms of equipment, mods, etc.

Could have been a good opportunity to test the Capsule escape system. Needs to be done anyway in anticipation of manned flights.

So many smart people

So many smart people at Spacex and nobody stil doesn’t know anything? I thought they were 1000000% smarter than , say, NASA, Arianespace, ILS and the whole of r|Russia. Appereas they are not…Any comments to the press, Genius Musk?

It’s not so much that they are _smarter_, but that they are trying to lead technologically and economically when the others are not. And it is difficult to see _why_ the others don’t lead, so it’s not so much that SpaceX is smarter as that the other players seem stupid or lazy. Everyone else is flying designs little changed from the 1960’s, and producing them in the most expensive way possible. Scaled Composites once published an article about the problem. You can buy a space-qualified screw for $9 from a single-source vendor with no competition. Or you can manufacture said screw for $1. Most of the companies other than SpaceX are buying $9 screws and simply passing the expense on.

All of that said, this is rocket science and we all knew they’d suffer some complete mission losses. We know they will lose some with people on them too, because the U.S., the Russians, etc., have all done so.

Short circuit cased fire in the second stage within 1min into the flight and fuel burn in second stage caused high pressure buildup since it continued to burn before first stage detached from vehicle then 100 million dollar exploded in the sky. I am sure Musk and spce x will come out more determined and refined through it all. All the best team. Hope next flight will be with dummy load and will land first stage in the sea platform successfully.

AMSAT and most academic projects would be happy to take a chancy ride to space for free. Sending up ballast weights or wheels of cheese is a shame when you can use the mass to loft some P-pods full of microsats, etc.

Hummm… explosion in the 2nd stage, or in the trunk where they store unpressurised cargo… like some strange student’s experiments.

And what if one of these packages did not contain what it should have…

It’s the TSA’s fault 🙂 Some student sneaked a bomb through the X-ray machine. 🙂

You have to submit quite a lot of paperwork regarding the construction of your experiment because the carrier will not tolerate anything that could _accidentally_ catch fire if you have made a design error. And there is also a really severe mass limitation on these experiments. So they’re small. For the ones that go in manned capsules, they are even concerned about the odors that every material in it could generate. Don’t want to smell up the capsule and have the astronauts locked in with something that makes them sick.

Comments both smart and uninformed…both respectful and crass. This has been a great mix of entertaining reading. Thanks guys! Also thank you for the civil closures to the few not-so-civil comments.
I’m very interested in launch anomaly investigation and recovery efficiency as demonstrated by SpaceX with this event, as compared to other providers. It’ll be great to see how they stacked up once the smoke has cleared and the Falcon is flying again.

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