Spaceflight Insider

UPDATE: No SpaceX Falcon 9 launches until April

Falcon 9 rocket for AsiaSat 6 satellite at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Falcon 9 rocket for AsiaSat 6 satellite at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Reports appearing on NASASpaceFlight, Twitter, and elsewhere have noted that SpaceX has discovered issues revolving around the helium tank used for pressurization in both the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket, which has been tapped to ferry the TürkmenÄlem communications satellite aloft. Some reports suggest the TürkmenÄlem booster was the one with the faulty helium bottles, others have stated that it was an issue discovered in a booster back at the company’s production facility.

As was reported in the Waco Tribune, SpaceX President and CEO Gwynne Shotwell announced the delay of the TürkmenÄlem mission during the Satellite 2015 conference held in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, March 17. During that meeting, Shotwell announced that a new, “enhanced” version of the Falcon 9 was being developed by the company.

The upgrades could provide as much a 20 percent increased capacity. These efforts should be able to aid the company in its efforts to have the first stage of the Falcon 9 conduct a landing near the launch site at Cape Canaveral.

SpaceX had a number of launches scheduled to take place this month, including the pad abort test of the firm’s Dragon spacecraft. This critical step to having crews use the Falcon 9 / Dragon has also been pushed back to April at the earliest.

The static test-fire is the last step on the road to launch. The Waco Tribune’s article noted that the leak was discovered during the lead up to the firing. A number of SpaceX missions have seen their launch dates slip when it comes time for the static test-fire. As this is the last milestone before flight, one that walks the Falcon 9 through everything except lifting off, engineers tend to discover issues either prior to or during this test.

Different numbers in terms of the amount of launches that SpaceX has planned for this year have been noted, with amounts as high as 17 and as low as 13 being announced. It is unclear what impact this issue with the helium bottles will have on what could be a banner year for SpaceX. The company is not only planning on conducting various abort tests for their Dragon spacecraft, but they are also looking at carrying out the first flight of the heavy version of the Falcon 9 in the fourth quarter of this year as well.

SpaceX responded to SpaceFlight Insider’s request for further details and provided the following information to help clarify the situation.

“There were no specific issues with the helium bottles on the Thales vehicle or at the factory.  However, during stress testing helium bottles of a similar lot, we identified a potential condition that could be shared with those on board the Thales vehicle.  While it’s unlikely that the flight helium bottles would have encountered an issue during the mission, out of an abundance of caution, we have opted to replace a few of the flight bottles. With the time required to make the change along with Range availability, our target date for the Thales mission is now April 24,” said SpaceX’s John Taylor.


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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

Do we know if the problem was a generic issue with the pressure tanks or a problem specific to the tank on this booster?

I hate to say it and nothing against Spacex, but this is a typical problem of any industry that has a lack of quality control oversight. Space x has very little Quality Inspection points. Perhaps this is something they might want to consider to avoid delays or embarrassment of these constant flaws popping up.
The Shuttle program proved that QA involvement prevented and caught many issues before they became a problem. Also production management tends to push the technicians to complete a task, and the techs tend to not bring up an issue when under pressure or working in this type of environment.

The STS program also had a roughly three billion dollar a year budget for decades and ended up killing 14 astronauts. And you brag about quality control?

Dick, NASA killed the astronauts by not reacting to problems that the contractors brought to light. I know, I worked on the shuttle program and the QA/QE department was consistently discovering flaws and presenting ways to improve. It was NASA whom many times refused to take the corrective action.
Do your homework.

George Worthington

I have heard that Spacex subed out parts of the helium system and has since moved it to in house. It this true? Does any one know?

After Spacex lands this first booster, they will take it to New Mexico for lots test flights. Seems reusable SpaceX boosters will become the most tested durable launch vehicles ever made.

So much for quality control sir 🙂

It’s funny how so many companies claim they don’t need a Quality program. Then something happens and all of a sudden their all about quality oversight.

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