Launch of Falcon 9 with 7th CRS Dragon ended with a failure

On June 28, 2015, SpaceX conducted failed launch of Falcon 9 launch vehicle with Dragon cargo spaceship from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for their seventh official Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station.

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Official SpaceX CRS-7 mission patch. Credit: SpaceX

Following a nominal lift-off, Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown, resulting in loss of mission. Preliminary analysis suggests the vehicle experienced an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank approximately 139 seconds into flight. Telemetry indicates first stage flight was nominal and that Dragon remained healthy for some period of time following separation.

SpaceX team is reviewing data to determine root cause and will be able to provide more information following a thorough fault tree analysis. Additional updates will be posted as they become available. Below is video released by Associated Press in its Youtube channel.

Notably, this launch failure is the 3rd with the International Space Station cargo resupply vehicles for the last 8 months, after failed mission of Orbital ATK's Antares and Cygnus in October 2014, and recent failure of Russian Progress M-27M spaceship occurred in April.

Moreover, the failure is the first for Falcon 9 rockets both in v.1.0 and v.1.1 configarations after their 18 consecutive mission successes, including the vehicle's maiden flight in 2010. The last launch failure for SpaceX dates back to August 2008, when Falcon 1 residual first stage thrust led to collision between its stages after their separation.

Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data... There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank. Data suggests counterintuitive cause... Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds. All that Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and founder, wrote in his Twitter with regards to CRS-7 mission failure

Space station crew has not been affected by the loss of cargo resupply mission. There are enough supplies there to support crew through October, with a Progress cargo spaceship slated for launch on July 3, the first such mission since recent failed Progress flight, and a Japanese HTV cargo mission planned for August. In addition, Orbital ATK is planning to launch its Cygnus spacecraft for the first time since last October's failure on ULA's Atlas V. That launch is currently scheduled for December, SpaceNews reminds.

Anyway, the CRS-7 mission loss is painful both for NASA, as it has temporary lost both ISS resupply vehicles availability, the US Air Force, which has recently certified Falcon 9 vehicles for national military missions launches, and commercial satellite operators. SpaceNews names at least 5 of them - SES, Orbcomm, Eutelsat, Iridium, and ViaSat - that now seem to have their missions postponed on an unclear term. In a situation of overloaded schedule of Ariane 5 until 2017, and questioned reliability of Proton-M after recent several failures, satellite fleet providers have face another trouble.

Lift-off of Falcon 9 with CRS-7 Dragon from Cape Canaveral
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Dragon spacecraft for CRS-7 mission was expected to deliver to the orbital station near 2 tons of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to support science and research investigations. It was also slated to use spacecraft's unpressurized trunk to deliver the first International Docking Adapter to enable future commercial crew vehicles to dock to the station. Dragon's cargo included 8 imaging CubeSats of Planet Labs as well. This is the second time the company losses satellites in an ISS cargo mission failure: 26 of company's 'Doves' were on an Orbital's Cygnus spacecraft during its October 2014 launch failure.

SpaceDigest expresses deepest regret to SpaceX and Elon Musk, who turned 44 the very same day, as well as NASA, who now seemed to have lost for a while its independent access to the ISS.

A barge 'Of Course I Still Love You', where Falcon 9 first stage was expected to softly land on after the separation. Credit: SpaceX
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P.S. On July 20 SpaceX held a press-conference, where Elon Musk told about preliminary investigation results of CRS-7 mission failure. Thus, "preliminary analysis suggests the overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank was initiated by a flawed piece of support hardware (a “strut”) inside the second stage." The strut that believed to have failed was designed "to handle 10,000 lbs of force, but failed at 2,000 lbs, a five-fold difference. "

Notably, SpaceX informs, "Dragon spacecraft not only survived the second stage event, but also continued to communicate until the vehicle dropped below the horizon and out of range". Elon Musk even emphasized that Dragon could have been saved if an on-board software had been programmed to activate the parachute system during an abort.

According to Musk, flights of Falcon 9 will resume no earlier than September, and the first flight of Falcon Heavy was postponed until spring 2016.

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