SpaceX F9R explodes in the skies above Texas during test flight
A report appearing on Business Insider has detailed how one of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX ) Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) test articles has exploded in the skies above MacGregor Texas. The accident occurred on Aug. 22, 2014. Although unfortunate, the loss of the test article can be viewed as a validation of SpaceX’s safety systems. Local television KXXV-TV’s Bruce Gietzen stated that there were no injuries – despite reports of debris raining down after the rocket had its flight terminated.
Flight termination hardware is part of all major launch vehicles’ systems. Most launch sites are in rural areas and are far removed from populated areas. However, given the fact that these boosters can cover vast distances in fairly short order – each has systems on board that will destroy the rocket before accidentally crashing into towns or cities. This system was activated today and destroyed the F9R before it caused any damage or injuries.
The Hawthorne, California-based company began developing methods to have a rocket’s first stage return back to the launch site via the firm’s “Grasshopper” test article. As with most everything that SpaceX does, rapid systems development is routine. As such, the company moved onto testing a version of the rocket’s first stage with Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) systems incorporated into it.
Sometime during today’s flight, the F9R’s systems detected an anomaly, one which was severe enough to warrant the activation of the flight termination systems. Video appearing on WFAA Channel 8 show what appears to be a normal flight, quickly followed by a expanding fireball with a trail of smoke falling back to Earth.
Video Courtesy of Garrett Frankson
SpaceX’s John Taylor issued a statement to Business Insider saying the following: “Today’s test was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”
Amanda Spence, who captured the featured image above, tweeted that grass fires were started from the debris that reached the ground. According to a report appearing on SpaceFlight Now, firefighters were called on the scene to put out the flames.
As noted, the F9R is a highly-modified version of the Falcon 9’s first stage. Flight engineers launch the system from a concrete pad at MacGregor. The F9R test article uses three, rather than the normal nine Merlin 1D engines to carry out its flights. The booster has been sent aloft up to altitudes of 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in prior test flights.
SpaceX’s MacGregor Facility encompasses some 900 acres and is where SpaceX tests the stages of the Falcon 9 v1.1 which the company uses to carry out missions under the $1.6 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services contract as well as commercial satellite missions. It is also the site where the Dragon cargo vessel is serviced and where the company conducts its VTVL test flights.
Soft-landing rocket stages has been done before by NASA (DC-XA ) as well as by private space firm Blue Origin (New Shepard ). However, SpaceX is the first company to test out the technology on an actual mission. To date, SpaceX has carried out tests of the system during the April 2014 CRS-3 mission and again three months later during the July Orbcomm OG2 launch.
Video Courtesy of SpaceX
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.