With loss of SpaceX Dragon – NASA now dependent on Russia, Japan for access to ISS
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — With the two companies providing cargo delivery services for NASA to the International Space Station having had their rockets encounter major anomalies in the past year, the agency now has no way, outside of its international partners, to deliver supplies to the orbiting laboratory. This is the unfortunate situation following the June 28, 2015, loss of a SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and its payload of an uncrewed Dragon spacecraft and the 4,000 lbs (1,814 kg) of supplies and experiments that it carried.
Everything appeared to be going according to plan when the 1-second (instantaneous) launch window opened at 10:21 a.m. EDT (14:21 GMT) and the F9 booster thundered off of the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) in Florida. Both the rocket and spacecraft appeared to be in superb shape.
That all changed at about 2 minutes and twenty seconds into flight, around the point of stage separation, the vehicle’s second stage encountered an over pressure anomaly – resulting in the complete loss of both the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft.
“We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate [the] loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the Solar System,” said NASA’s Administrator Charles Bolden via a statement issued just before 1 p.m. EDT 17:00 GMT).
Initial statements made shortly after the accident gave conflicting information as to whether-or-not the Flight Termination Hardware had been activated by the Air Force Station’s Range Safety. SpaceX’s COO and President Gwynne Shotwell stated that she did not believe a destruct signal had been sent.
SpaceX’s CEO and Founder, Elon Musk, provided the following explanation about the accident shortly after the vehicle was lost: “There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause… That’s all we can say with confidence right now. Will have more to say following a thorough fault tree analysis.”
The NewSpace company responded quickly after the accident, stating that an anomaly investigation team would be working to determine the root cause of the problem as soon as possible. Pam Underwood with the FAA classified today’s accident as a “mishap” – one whose investigation will be conducted by SpaceX with FAA oversight.
“This is a tough business, every launch provider has to consider this as part of their business plan,” Shotwell said when asked about how this might impact SpaceX’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s a hiccup, a time to pause – but not to make any significant changes to our plans.”
Today’s flight had been pushed back from taking place earlier this month; this was predicated by the loss of the Roscosmos Progress M-27M on April 28 of this year. In fact, today’s accident marks the third loss of an uncrewed cargo vessel traveling to the space station in less than a year – each produced by a different entity.
In October of 2014, an Orbital ATK Antares exploded 12 seconds after launch, resulting in the complete loss of the rocket and its payload of a Cygnus spacecraft; then there was the Russian accident in April, and now the loss of Dragon.
NASA worked to assuage concerns that the station might be running low on supplies by noting that Russia is scheduled to launch the Progress M-28M spacecraft on July 3 and that a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) HTV spacecraft is scheduled to launch later this summer.
As of today, the United States lacks the capability to launch either cargo or crew to the ISS. Despite today’s events, the agency continued to express confidence in SpaceX.
“SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program,” Bolden said.
Other officials within the agency were more reserved in their response.
“This is not where I wanted to be on a Sunday afternoon. There is no commonality between the accidents, other than it is difficult to fly in space,” said NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate William Gerstenmaier. “This is a blow to us, we lost a lot of cargo during this flight, we lost the IDA, a spacesuit… it’s a pretty substantial loss to us – but we will recover.”
Gerstenmaier’s comments were reinforced by Mike Suffredini, NASA’s Space Station Program Office Manager.
“It’s not a question of whether you will stumble or fall – it’s a question of what you do after you have stumbled and fall,” Suffredini said.
When asked, Gerstenmaier responded to whether or not this incident could bolster the argument made by members of the Senate Appropriations Committee who voted to cut the budget for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program earlier this month by stating that the agency needs to be allowed to continue moving forward with the progress that they have already made toward having astronauts travel to the ISS via commercially-produced rockets and spacecraft.
Shotwell stated that an array of craft had been deployed to search for debris that might be recoverable – but that it was not known at this time if any had been found and stated that the investigation was currently focusing on the booster’s second stage. Today’s accident helped to reinforce the fact that travel to-and-from low-Earth orbit is still challenging. A fact reinforced by Gerstenmaier.
“I didn’t think we’d lose all of our commercial cargo spacecraft in one year – but we have,” Gerstenmaier said. “We get into trouble when we start to think it’s easy or routine – it’s not easy and it’s not routine.”
NASA and SpaceX have requested that if any debris is found that the public call: 321-867-2121
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, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.
“It’s a hiccup, a time to pause – but not to make any significant changes to our plans.”
It is time for you to start looking for another job because SpaceX just went out of business.
Really? You think this will mean that everyone who currently is using SpaceX will go away.
Who is “everyone”? List their launch manifest and tell me that will keep them in business after half of them and NASA and the Air Force cancel.
SpaceX was always one launch failure from bankruptcy and now that it has happened everyone wants that reality to change. With two other capsules being built their human rated launcher exploding just ended any future they had of being a “game change.” They just proved it is the same old game and they just lost.
Read about in the news tomorrow.
You have yet to prove that NASA is getting rid of them. You have yet to prove the Air Force is going to uncertify them. You have yet to prove anything.
SpaceX just proved how good they are. You are trying to make it my problem?
I know this is a hard time for all the NewSpace fans and SpaceX nuts- and that is not my problem. They deserve whatever they get for all their years of making these forums toxic waste dumps of arrogance, condescension, insults. No pity from me at. I am laughing at all of them.
At somepoint, you should probably just give up and accept that you aren’t fooling anyone. Rehashing the same arguments again and again.
As to your point – it is your problem because you are claiming NASA is about to dump them. If you saw Gerst yesterday, and Bolden yesterday – yea, not so much.
You claim the AF is about to dump them – if so, why did the AF seem ready to move forward with SpaceX during the recent hearing?
You can waive your hands and say “this is all going away”, but that doesn’t actually produce data.
Here is some data on how customer is reacting to CRS-7. Sounds like everyone is running for the hills…or not.
Marc Eisenberg, ORBCOMM CEO:
“We know in our heart that they’re going to get us up there into space, and they’re going to do it well,” said Eisenberg. “These guys are some of the most brilliant people on Earth, and they’re going to figure this out, and this is going to be a blip on their radar.”
“We know in our heart”
Remember that this could always be self-deception or a delusion. 😀 AKA an appeal to consequence (they have to work, they HAVE to, otherwise we’re screwed). But somehow I think that in this case, their claims are true independently of their conviction of them being so.
They are not going out of business. For that to happen, NASA will have to loose it’s funding & be disbanded & the U.S. give up its share of the ISS to China. And that is not going to happen!!!!! Your, advice is to turn tail and run!!! Well, there’s a reason the U.S. is a great nation. Sometimes we take it on the chin and fall down, but, we always get back up with a bang!! And that goes for the companies & corporations that make this nation great, too!!!
“For that to happen, NASA will have to loose it’s funding & be disbanded & the U.S. give up its share of the ISS to China.”
Dude, your worship of SpaceX is not going to change what just happened. It is just another company living off tax dollars and not a very good one.
Good thing Boeing/Lockheed never had a lunch failure… oh wait. All launch systems are one sticky valve away from a bad day. Get over it. By definition orbit class rockets operate at low margins. Find the problem iterate the design/ops and move forward.
Good thing Boeing/Lockheed never had a lunch failure… oh wait. All launch systems are one sticky valve away from a bad day. Get over it. By definition orbit class rockets operate at low margins. Find the problem iterate the design/ops and move forward. This has nothing to do with SpaceX worship any more than moving the ball forward.
The record of Boeing and Lockheed aka ULA- just put SpaceX out of business. Go ahead and tell us all about their last launch failure….68 launches ago I think it was.
Maybe that’s because ULA 1) inherited their established launcher lines which 2) worked out their kinks a long time ago?
For example, the upper stage on the Atlas has a fifty-year old heritage. Falcon 9’s upper stage (which failed here): five years. Of course Boeing’s/LockMart’s launchers are more reliable *at this point in time*. They weren’t like that twenty or thirty years ago.
You’re going to eat your own words. Riiiight, like Arianespace went our of business after FOUR incidents within *their* first nineteen flights of the Ariane 5, n’est-ce pas? 😀
I hope this will help the Dream Chaser/ Atlas V combo to get the next NASA cargo contract to the ISS.
I hope it sparks a movement to shut down the ISS and abandon LEO completely Marcel.
Doubling and tripling the tooling and workforce at Michoud to raise SLS core production to 4 to 6 a year or more is the next step.
That’s a bit severe. It’s certainly a blow to everyone’s favorite company, but far from fatal. Failures happen, especially in unmanned flight. It’s not like they’re the only company to fail in the last 12 months. Everyone’s on the same boay
“-everyone’s favorite company-”
There are plenty of people who know what a joke that company is but all you will ever read on these forums is hero worship and infomercials.
The real world just made all the years of fantasy football in space the joke those of us who understand basic space flight always knew it was.
It was never anything but a hobby rocket and now it will never carry a human being or launch any spy satellites or probably even be in production a year from now. It’s over and I for one am very happy about it. I prayed that piece of junk would blow up on the pad every time it counted down.
“Hobby rocket” – yet more proof that this is yet another version of Gary Church
Hi, Gary Church/Bandagin/Duquesne! I thought the moderators banned you from this site six months ago. Glad to see that you are making your usual positive contribution to the discussion.
Don’t want to mention episodes during Delta III timeframe and Titian failures. ULA is not in commercial launch business to even compete with SpaceX. So your statement is pointless. Is your claim that ULA will never have a launch failure?
No, my claim is that the SpaceX “game changer” just exploded on it’s 7th trip to the ISS. And you claim it doesn’t matter.
Well ULA’s pricing cuts, adoption of “buy it now pricing for Vulcan” and axing 1/3 of its exec’s shows it is changing the game. I wonder if they are going re-hire all the dead wood and bring back Delta Medium going forward…ha?
it’s just a matter of time….Space x and Elon’s arrogance has caught up to him. He criticized every other space company as if he is somehow superior to them. Iv’e been in the aerospace business for almost 30 years and know at least 30 people who currently work for spacex and probably 30 more who have quit spacex for various reasons. Of these approx. 60 people ranging from Engineers down to the technicians, they all tell the same story; Todays accident was eventually coming. The company has almost non existent quality control and when an employee brings up an issue that needs to be addressed, they are shut down, belittled and intimidated to keep there mouth shut.
I agree with other blog posters, why would NASA ever give spacex an opportunity to fly human’s or DOD missions. Hopefully the US will wake up and realize this and put SLS on the fast track.
And just to be fair, Orbital ATK has very little quality control as well, doesn’t see a need for it and apparently left FOD in the fuel tank of Antares.
Putting SLS on fast track or no track has nothing to do with space station resupply, crew ops or putting payloads into orbit for anyone. SLS has only one useful function and that is deep space everything else is going to rely on some form of commercial vehicle. Is SpaceX arrogant? Yes, you would have to be to break into this market in the first place with a starup company. I don’t think these qualities are even separable. Everyone needs to get off their high horses here. EVERYONE either has had a launch failure or will have one. It is a miracle a clean sheet design medium lift vehicle such as F9 has gone this long without a failure. It is a testament to SpaceX engineering there have been so few issues. Ariane 5 was just iteration and lost it on the first launch do to simple software bug. ULA enjoys a great track record based on operational excellence and inheriting mature designs that went through a lot of pain to get there (Late 90s my friend). I personally believe we can get to that point on a vehicle that is far more affordable in a shorter amount of time than in the past however it isn’t painless or instantaneous. From the outside it seems SpaceX has no problem scrubbing a mission to validate and concerns (this is had been a main criticism by the likes of ULA in the past about keeping schedule). Again this would be expected early on in a clean sheet design.
Mark my words:
1) NASA will back SpaceX going forward as long as the RCA produces faults and improvements
2) DoD will do the same with a bit more hand ringing
3) Commercial customers will look at this as bump in the road (Way more reliable that Proton anyway)
4) SpaceX will tone down its bravado
5) Cheaper access to LEO/GTO/GEO is here to stay
6) ULA will continue down path to commercial model and drop Delta
7) F9 will be a more reliable launch vehicle because of this failure going forward the same way Apollo 1 tragically helped Apollo reliability and all the failures in the 90s helped current Atlas and Delta on the pad be as reliable as they are.
“He criticized every other space company as if he is somehow superior to them.”
But he’s STILL superior to them – at least in some respects. Mainly in the sense that he’s trying to move forward, where everyone else is happy with standing still, or at least was until he came. Remember that when Vulcan/ACES and Ariane 6 flnally fly, since you’d never see the day otherwise. If *that* were the *only* legacy of SpaceX, if the company went belly-up tomorrow, it would probably *still* be worth it.
The fact is that this kind of rocketry acromegalia is painful could have been expected. The condition is still far from terminal, though, or at least is isn’t obvious at all why it should be.
“The company has almost non existent quality control and when an employee brings up an issue that needs to be addressed, they are shut down, belittled and intimidated to keep there mouth shut.”
That’s a rather serious claim bordering on libel if there’s no evidence. Also, USAF and NASA might be willing to hear that their certification processes, surely comprising the company processes as well, are completely worthless if they can’t catch such a basic problem.
“As of today, the United States lacks the capability to launch either cargo or crew to the ISS. Despite today’s events, the agency continued to express confidence in SpaceX.”
I thought Orbital bought a ride for Cygnus on Atlas V: http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/commercial/cygnus-flight-ulas-atlas-v-review/
They did, but it hasn’t flown, and isn’t expected to fly until late this year
There will always be issues with launching rockets, even with a perfect launch record as Space X has had. Lady Luck isn’t nice sometimes and this rough spot is one of them . The Russians and the USA already know what can happen when things don’t go like they were meant to. Bouncing right back after such a failure and learning from it is the key to the next successful launch . It was that way with both Challenger and Columbia for the USA and the Russians with their own rocket failures as well .
Let’s look at what’s good. The launch pad is still intact. There are second stage cores in various stages of development at Hawthorne. Hopefully they will find out what happened, correct it & be launching again within three months.
Web Developer by trade….
Rocket scientist and government welfare queen by profession…
Hey Roy, well put.
It’s funny how the spacex groupies try to make the company appear as if Elon and his backers pay for everything, but in reality spacex only exist because of the government dole outs he has received.
Like ULA doesn’t exist because the government doles out money? At least Elon has his own skin in the game. At least SpaceX has brought commercial launch business back the US, who else has done this? SpaceX was developing Merlin and Falcon before a cent of NASA development money was ever seen. Elon went nearly bankrupt starting this company. Again that is the kind of risk I don’t see anyone laying out there in Old Space. Say what you want but NASA cost plus contractors and ULA are far MORE on the dole than SpaceX or any commercial player could ever be. Where is your sense of proportion? It isn’t rational to believe that a purely privately funded venture is going to produce a fully integrated launch orbital re-supply capability without help from NASA. It would never happen given NASA holds so many design, material & testing resources accumulated over the years. Privatizing space access would obviously need to be done in steps seeding from the the public in the beginning.
They are lucky to have a list of billionaire investors behind them. Those guys never run out of money in today’s tax structure.
My main concern is that if even if this led to ISS bring left crewless, the Orion/SLS program is still many years from attempting a crewed mission. Another gap but one in which no American astronauts are logging time in space! This would be a dent in the national psyche.
And there’s always the possibility the maiden SLS launch could end in disaster. The entire HSF program of NASA is in even greater risk of stagnating because of the two CRS program disasters.
“As of today, the United States lacks the capability to launch either cargo or crew to the ISS. Despite today’s events, the agency continued to express confidence in SpaceX.” This statement ignores the fact that Orbital ATK’s Cygnus unmanned ISS resupply spacecraft is scheduled to fly on an Atlas V:
Mr. Findley and others,
The flight of Cygnus on a ULA Atlas V – isn’t scheduled to take place for at least another 5 months, until that time, Russian and Japanese spacecraft are the only means of access to the ISS.
Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider
Jason, that’s still capability though. It’s not that ULA is doing anything new to create capability, that’s just when the mission has been slotted and the date all of the mission integration work has been planned to. We still have US capability to deliver cargo to the ISS.
Orb-4 is a one-off as Atlas isn’t a normal part of CRS. Where you’re viewing this from a capability standpoint, I’m looking at it in terms of logistics, time and redundancy. Both current CRS companies have encountered failures which will require an investigation and for corrective measures to be taken. That takes time.
Meanwhile, barring no further incidents, the only means of access to the ISS is from Japan and Russia. Here’s why that’s significant. Who would have thought that within a time span of 8 months not one but three of the four spacecraft that ferry supplies to the ISS would encounter anomalies? Also, the Russian Progress has encountered several failures, a few very recently.
It’s also important to remember that the US is not on the best of terms with Russia right now.
The ISS has enough supplies to last through October. Orb-4 is currently scheduled to take place more than a month after the supplies on ISS will have run out. So while, technically, the U.S. might have the capability, when one considers the other dynamics at play – the situation isn’t quite so simple.
In terms of space flight, it is never routine and situations can never be taken at face value.
Having said that, SpaceX has only encountered a single anomaly in the 18 flights of the F9 prior to yesterday’s accident and even then they still completed the mission’s primary objective – sending cargo, crew supplies and experiments to the ISS. I’m fairly confident, the F9 will be in service again soon.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider
That’s true but the cost of doing that permanently would be *massive*. Even if this accident meant that F9 had a 5% accident rate (which is pure speculation, since that’s no proper way of doing statistics), launching on a $164M Atlas instead on a $60M Falcon would mean paying $100M extra per flight to avoid an average loss of 0.05 of a flight’s cargo. Unless your payload is time-critical and/or worth $2B or more, even a consistently flawed Falcon is cheaper in the long run than a perfectly flawless Atlas. But I’m quite sure these supply runs are mostly food and redundant spares.
as an european outsider: it’s a lesson for humility and only a psychological desaster – I’m sure even with a few failures the f9/heavy can be a successful rocket – just like other rockets proved to become… maybe the average american expects too much: the whole privatisation of space business demands a price / and even musk as the golden tech entrepreneur spirit he is can’t do miracles… maybe this helps to relax russian-american relationship as well: you are somehow in the same boat for different reasons… time and patience…
As another european outsider, indeed! The only thing which is going to come of this is that the systems of F9 will be thoroughly reviewed, making it more reliable in the end. Commercial space, in cooperation with national space will happen for a number of good reasons, launch costs being one of them. For these kind of events an old saying applies now and in the future: ad astra per aspera.
It would be disastrous if SpaceX folded and Arianespace suddenly ditched the desperately needed Ariane 6 and all the other LV research simply because they wouldn’t need to compete anymore.
Sad to see so many people quick to jump to the attack. Any failure for any of the space companies is a small setback to us as a species. Failures by two major US space companies and Russia are a much bigger setback. (I don’t count the Virgin tragedy, because edge-of-space is hardly that important to our future compared to LEO and beyond).
This is the real world, not the “let’s hope the other guy fails” of politics or sport.
Good luck NASA, SpaceX, ULA, et al.