Author Topic: What if the Cause of the Falcon 9 AMOS-6 Pad Failure is Never Uncovered  (Read 19178 times)

Offline nicp

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Could Spacex create a test rig involving only the second stage, plus perhaps representative parts from Vandenberg, etc, and just repeat the cycle X times until it breaks. Hopefully in an informative manner!
Not on an actual pad you understand - a custom test rig.

I'm thinking of the DeHavilland Comet where pressure was cycled many many times until the thing failed..
Where's my Guinness?

Offline robert_d

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As others have observed they will then likely fix all the probable causes. I would also expect they will install "tie breaker" sensors which will decide which one it is in the event it happens again. I would expect at this point it will need a small number of additional sensors to this because they will have simulated the various failure mode signatures and worked out what features can separate them from each other.

I like this idea of tie breaker sensors. I think they also need to retest every possible material for the ultra cold temperatures. It might be that something got by that may lose its expected properties in rare instances.
Just as the struts had a higher failure rate than was expected.

Online laszlo

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If a cause is never found and we continue with the annual Falcon explosion event, I predict:

1. Customers will use the cheap Spacex flights for low-priority, low importance payloads
2. Critical payloads will go onto ULA boosters
3. Increased insurance costs may drive Spacex prices to parity with ULA
4. ULA prices will creep up until they finally break their winning streak
5. Spacex will leave the government manned spaceflight business
6. NSF will have a pad debris bingo thread

Seriously, though, they'll find a root cause. As John Smith 19 said, it blew up right there in front of everyone with most of the debris still accessible.

Offline the_other_Doug

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How does SpaceX regain confidence if they have no known cause?

Bring the VAFB pad to readiness. Bring a supposedly identical vehicle to that pad. Static fire.

Success with that builds a little confidence.

Then bring another, different but supposedly identical vehicle to the pad. Static fire.

That builds a little more confidence.

Rinse and repeat until hair is once again glossy.

The main flaws in this plan are that, first, the TEL at VAFB is not the same as the one that is currently charred wreckage at SLC-40 at CCAFS.  You wouldn't be testing the same conditions, so you wouldn't expect applicable results.

Second, there are other launch pads within range of the VAFB pad.  I really don't believe the Air Force is going to let SpaceX say "Hey, let's do the exact same things over here at VAFB and see if the rocket explodes."  VAFB management, after seeing how much the AMOS-6 launcher's explosion damaged CCAFS facilities, will likely respond "over our dead bodies."

SpaceX would almost have to try and build as highly accurate of a duplicate to the wrecked TEL as possible and set it up at McGregor, and try their test-to-possible-destruction there, and to be honest, I bet the local community would try to step in and prohibit that.

No, I doubt that, in the absence of both a good working theory on the cause of the accident and an accepted remediation plan, SpaceX will be allowed to just mount a Falcon somewhere and see what they have to do to make it blow up the same way as AMOS-6's rocket did.  By anyone.
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline DJPledger

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If a cause is never found and we continue with the annual Falcon explosion event, I predict:

1. Customers will use the cheap Spacex flights for low-priority, low importance payloads
2. Critical payloads will go onto ULA boosters
3. Increased insurance costs may drive Spacex prices to parity with ULA
4. ULA prices will creep up until they finally break their winning streak
5. Spacex will leave the government manned spaceflight business
6. NSF will have a pad debris bingo thread

Seriously, though, they'll find a root cause. As John Smith 19 said, it blew up right there in front of everyone with most of the debris still accessible.

7. FH customers will move over to New Glenn.

Offline the_other_Doug

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If a cause is never found and we continue with the annual Falcon explosion event, I predict:

1. Customers will use the cheap Spacex flights for low-priority, low importance payloads
2. Critical payloads will go onto ULA boosters
3. Increased insurance costs may drive Spacex prices to parity with ULA
4. ULA prices will creep up until they finally break their winning streak
5. Spacex will leave the government manned spaceflight business
6. NSF will have a pad debris bingo thread

Seriously, though, they'll find a root cause. As John Smith 19 said, it blew up right there in front of everyone with most of the debris still accessible.

7. FH customers will move over to New Glenn.

I believe that SpaceX will, at the very worst, identify at least a set of "most likely causes" for the event, develop remediation around all of them, and be back flying years before New Glenn is in a position to try and book payloads.

From what I saw, doesn't BO state that New Glenn will start flying no earlier than 2021?  I think it's ludicrous to be suggesting that SpaceX won't be flying again four to four and a half years prior to that...
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline DJPledger

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If a cause is never found and we continue with the annual Falcon explosion event, I predict:

1. Customers will use the cheap Spacex flights for low-priority, low importance payloads
2. Critical payloads will go onto ULA boosters
3. Increased insurance costs may drive Spacex prices to parity with ULA
4. ULA prices will creep up until they finally break their winning streak
5. Spacex will leave the government manned spaceflight business
6. NSF will have a pad debris bingo thread

Seriously, though, they'll find a root cause. As John Smith 19 said, it blew up right there in front of everyone with most of the debris still accessible.

7. FH customers will move over to New Glenn.

I believe that SpaceX will, at the very worst, identify at least a set of "most likely causes" for the event, develop remediation around all of them, and be back flying years before New Glenn is in a position to try and book payloads.

From what I saw, doesn't BO state that New Glenn will start flying no earlier than 2021?  I think it's ludicrous to be suggesting that SpaceX won't be flying again four to four and a half years prior to that...
If the cause of Amos-6 is not found out and SpaceX delays RTF by more than six months then there is a chance customers may walk to other launch providers.

Offline Jim

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As others have observed they will then likely fix all the probable causes. I would also expect they will install "tie breaker" sensors which will decide which one it is in the event it happens again. I would expect at this point it will need a small number of additional sensors to this because they will have simulated the various failure mode signatures and worked out what features can separate them from each other.

I like this idea of tie breaker sensors. I think they also need to retest every possible material for the ultra cold temperatures. It might be that something got by that may lose its expected properties in rare instances.
Just as the struts had a higher failure rate than was expected.


What says that they don't already have redundant sensors, and what says that they had conflicting outputs?
Adding more sensors is not that easy, unless it is the LOIS type.  Lift Off Instrumentation System.  This is a separate system use for measuring environment at liftoff and a few feet of flight.  All the sensors are tied to harnesses to pad that break away after liftoff.

Put sensors on the vehicle and incorporating it into the telemetry system is much more intrusive.  Need to route power and data lines to the sensors, telemetry boxes need more connectors.  Need more bandwidth for downlink.  Need to update software to sample those sensors and incorporate them into the TM stream

Offline the_other_Doug

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If a cause is never found and we continue with the annual Falcon explosion event, I predict:

1. Customers will use the cheap Spacex flights for low-priority, low importance payloads
2. Critical payloads will go onto ULA boosters
3. Increased insurance costs may drive Spacex prices to parity with ULA
4. ULA prices will creep up until they finally break their winning streak
5. Spacex will leave the government manned spaceflight business
6. NSF will have a pad debris bingo thread

Seriously, though, they'll find a root cause. As John Smith 19 said, it blew up right there in front of everyone with most of the debris still accessible.

7. FH customers will move over to New Glenn.

I believe that SpaceX will, at the very worst, identify at least a set of "most likely causes" for the event, develop remediation around all of them, and be back flying years before New Glenn is in a position to try and book payloads.

From what I saw, doesn't BO state that New Glenn will start flying no earlier than 2021?  I think it's ludicrous to be suggesting that SpaceX won't be flying again four to four and a half years prior to that...
If the cause of Amos-6 is not found out and SpaceX delays RTF by more than six months then there is a chance customers may walk to other launch providers.

Yep -- to providers that can actually provide launch services.  So far, all Bezos has is Powerpoint slides and some developmental work into engines large enough to power his paper rocket.  To suggest he is suddenly going to walk away with SpaceX's manifest is rather absurd.

If any business SpaceX currently has manifested goes to other launch providers, I think you'll see it go to Ariane and Proton well before BO is in a position to start selling launches.  IMHO, anyway... :)
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline envy887

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Proton also has annual explosions, and Ariane is booked solid for years. F9 and FH will have plenty of work even if they can't prove a root cause.

Offline envy887

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Looks like it might not be an issue:

From P.B. de Selding:

Quote
SpaceX President Shotwell: We anticipate return to flight in November, meaning down for three months. Next flight from CCAFS, then to VAFB.

https://twitter.com/pbdes/status/775702299402526720

That is a fast return and would indicate they have an idea what caused it or have narrowed it to not be the vehicle?

Online launchwatcher

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Adding more sensors is not that easy, unless it is the LOIS type.  Lift Off Instrumentation System.  This is a separate system use for measuring environment at liftoff and a few feet of flight.  All the sensors are tied to harnesses to pad that break away after liftoff.
On the other hand, this mishap happened during fueling while the vehicle was still firmly attached to the pad -- tethered LOIS-style sensors plastered all over a test article may be all they need to observe unanticipated behavior of the stage during fueling.   Heck, they wouldn't even need a breakaway harness for that.

Offline robert_d

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Second, there are other launch pads within range of the VAFB pad.  I really don't believe the Air Force is going to let SpaceX say "Hey, let's do the exact same things over here at VAFB and see if the rocket explodes."  VAFB management, after seeing how much the AMOS-6 launcher's explosion damaged CCAFS facilities, will likely respond "over our dead bodies."


What "damaged facilities"? The HIF and Oxy tank right at that pad are fine and even 3 of 4 lightning towers are good. What evidence of any other damage?

Offline JamesH65

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If a cause is never found and we continue with the annual Falcon explosion event, I predict:

1. Customers will use the cheap Spacex flights for low-priority, low importance payloads
2. Critical payloads will go onto ULA boosters
3. Increased insurance costs may drive Spacex prices to parity with ULA
4. ULA prices will creep up until they finally break their winning streak
5. Spacex will leave the government manned spaceflight business
6. NSF will have a pad debris bingo thread

Seriously, though, they'll find a root cause. As John Smith 19 said, it blew up right there in front of everyone with most of the debris still accessible.

7. FH customers will move over to New Glenn.

I believe that SpaceX will, at the very worst, identify at least a set of "most likely causes" for the event, develop remediation around all of them, and be back flying years before New Glenn is in a position to try and book payloads.

From what I saw, doesn't BO state that New Glenn will start flying no earlier than 2021?  I think it's ludicrous to be suggesting that SpaceX won't be flying again four to four and a half years prior to that...
If the cause of Amos-6 is not found out and SpaceX delays RTF by more than six months then there is a chance customers may walk to other launch providers.

Yep -- to providers that can actually provide launch services.  So far, all Bezos has is Powerpoint slides and some developmental work into engines large enough to power his paper rocket.  To suggest he is suddenly going to walk away with SpaceX's manifest is rather absurd.

If any business SpaceX currently has manifested goes to other launch providers, I think you'll see it go to Ariane and Proton well before BO is in a position to start selling launches.  IMHO, anyway... :)

Whilst I agree that people are unlikely to just walk over to New Glenn, I think it would be foolish to say that all Bezos has is powerpoints and a nearly complete engine. Just like SpaceX and the BFS, it would be likely they have been working on this for some time, and are well in to the design phase.  After all, they have a LOT of employees' and a LOT of cash.

Offline Rocket Science

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RTF in 3 months... What, they found a smoking gun? ??? (I think I just may have made a pun?)
« Last Edit: 09/13/2016 03:17 pm by Rocket Science »
"The laws of physics are unforgiving"
~Rob: Physics instructor, Aviator, Vintage auto racer

Offline the_other_Doug

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Second, there are other launch pads within range of the VAFB pad.  I really don't believe the Air Force is going to let SpaceX say "Hey, let's do the exact same things over here at VAFB and see if the rocket explodes."  VAFB management, after seeing how much the AMOS-6 launcher's explosion damaged CCAFS facilities, will likely respond "over our dead bodies."


What "damaged facilities"? The HIF and Oxy tank right at that pad are fine and even 3 of 4 lightning towers are good. What evidence of any other damage?

It's not just flaming debris that causes problems.  If you break the water main, you lose water pressure all along that main.  If you blow out the power system, you lose power all throughout the area.

I have heard reports that both issues occurred after the AMOS-6 event and caused serious concern about rockets and spacecraft at nearby facilities.

Any damage to infrastructure doesn't just impact the pad on which the explosion happens, it impacts all shared infrastructure.  Power and water are two examples of shared infrastructure, and as I say, both were compromised at other pads and other locations around CCAFS after the AMOS-6 explosion.  A lot of heroic activity by CCAFS maintenance and support personnel kept this from causing serious problems, but it was still something of a close-run thing, from what I understand.

I doubt whether VAFB totally isolates the water and power systems from pad to pad, and so would be likely to suffer similar effects from such an accident.  Just sayin'...

That said, from the recent tweet about a November RTF, it looks like this whole thread is (thankfully) going to be superseded by events quite soon...
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline Kansan52

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Doug, thanks for that info. Haven't seen anything about CCAFS maintenance going the extra mile. Many unsung heroes at times like this.

Offline Rocket Science

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Tweet possible interpretation: We have a solid LV, so it "must" have been external (not known what) So we rebuild the pad and TEL crossing the "t"s and dot the "i"s and we're all go...
« Last Edit: 09/13/2016 03:57 pm by Rocket Science »
"The laws of physics are unforgiving"
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Offline the_other_Doug

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Doug, thanks for that info. Haven't seen anything about CCAFS maintenance going the extra mile. Many unsung heroes at times like this.

I got some of it from the following post under the OSIRIS-REx live thread.  It doesn't mention power system issues (I think I heard something about those glancing through reddit), but it does talk about the water and related "chiller" systems at Pad 41:

Article from the 45th mentions the effort to protect OSIRIS-REx after the SpaceX incident.

Quote
While you might think our immediate concern was the fires on the pad and their sources, my civil engineer representative informed me that during the explosion, the deluge system had been damaged and most of the water was being shot up into the air rather than being dispersed across the pad as designed. The SpaceX rep informed me that while the deluge wasn’t functioning optimally it was still helping to suppress the fire somewhat. That was fine except for one thing -- our 1.2 million gallon tank was being depleted at a rapid rate and there was no way to refill the tanks fast enough to sustain the output. If the tanks ran dry then the motors to the pumps would burn up, which would render the deluge system inoperable for other launch pads meaning our upcoming ULA launch might then be in danger.

Another issue I had to immediately consider were the many different high-pressure systems on the pad and whether or not they had been compromised and how to bring the pressures down if needed. Our team and I decided to take a multitask approach as we decided to send in our Initial Response Team to shut down the pumps and turn off one of the high-pressure systems that could be accessed from outside the perimeter of the launch pad.

No sooner had we accomplished the securing of the pumps when I was approached by another one of our range users who explained they were losing pressure on the chillers at a neighboring launch complex. Without those chillers the spacecraft for the next launch would be lost. Needless to say at this point I had to reestablish our priorities and get a team working on a way to get our IRT into Space Launch Complex 41 to allow access for technicians to enter in order to make the necessary repairs. 

As we were reviewing the plan, word came in from Pad 41 that all of the pressures were lost and technicians had to get to the spacecraft immediately. This is a situation when good working relationships with our counterparts at Kennedy Space Center came into play. We were able to coordinate with the KSC EOC for access through their roadblocks and get the required support to the spacecraft in plenty of time to not only save the spacecraft, but to keep the planned launch on schedule.

http://www.patrick.af.mil/News/Commentaries/Display/Article/938481/emergency-management-a-behind-the-scenes-look-on-the-eastern-range
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline Kansan52

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Wow. Thanks for that, missed it entirely. What a great team to do all that in such an emergency.

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