Falcon 9, Delta 4 Investigation Boards Formed

Debris falls following the loss of Engine 1 during Falcon 9’s October 7 flight (Credits: SpaceX).

On October 4, the launch of a GPS satellite aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 4 rocket experienced low thrust in its upper stage, requiring compensation using reserve fuel to put the satellite in its proper orbit. On October 7, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo ship to ISS experienced loss of one of its nine engines, resulting in incorrect insertion of its secondary payload, an experimental satellite from Orbcomm. Now, investigation boards into both incidents have been formed.

ULA is conducting its own investigation into the Delta 4 anomaly, of course, but it seems the US Air Force, which relies heavily on ULA launch vehicles, has gotten a bit concerned and launched its own investigation. Until the issue is resolved, ULA is holding off on an October 25 Atlas 5 launch using the same  RL-10 upper stage. The October 25 launch is supposed to carry the next prototype of the super-secret X-37B space plane. This will be the third orbital test of the X-37B. The last X-37B mission lasted 468 days, well beyond its designed flight duration of 270 days. The Air Force is not releasing the expected duration of this flight.

Meanwhile, following several days of public silence regarding the cause of an engine failure on Falcon 9’s October 7 launch, SpaceX has announced formation of a joint investigation board with NASA to get to the bottom of the issue. SpaceX is scheduled to launch a second supply mission to ISS on January 18, hopefully leaving plenty of time to get the engine anomaly straightened out. No further word has been released after SpaceX’s initial statement fingered a localized pressure issue that caused the engine to be shut off and its fairing to detach. It was this fairing that is presumed to have caused the debris seen in a slow motion video of the launch that led some to believe the engine had exploded.

Below, highlights of the Oct 4 Delta 4 launch:



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