Sunday, August 3, 2008

SpaceX Falcon 1 Failure

Alas! Flight 3 of the SpaceX Falcon 1 vehicle ended with the loss of the vehicle. The flight seemed to be going well until shortly before stage separation. This is the moment when the first stage shuts down and is jettisoned, then the second stage begins firing. The live video stream from the rocket was cut off about 2:11 into the flight. A few seconds later the SpaceX announcer said there had been an anomaly. In a statement to his employees and the general public a short while later, Elon Musk said there had been a stage separation failure. We have no other information at this time, although speculation has been rampant in the blogosphere.

When something like this happens the blogosphere is always full of naysayers. I can't resist a few comments of my own. First, it is true this is a serious failure for the company. This flight didn't get as far as the last one, which doesn't look good. We have yet to learn how their customers will react to the failure. It is definitely a significant setback. Musk says he has brought in new investors and his cash position is very strong. He thinks he can weather the crisis. I still wouldn't bet against him.

Many of the naysayers appear to be part of the traditional aerospace industry and it seems almost as if they are hoping SpaceX will fail. They seem to be motivated by a desire to prove that no one can improve on their own track record. They would like to think that it is always going to take billions of dollars and an army of thousands to develop new spacecraft. But look at what SpaceX has already accomplished. With a total workforce of 525 people and no more than about $250 million expended so far, they have developed one small launch vehicle (Falcon 1), are well along in development of a medium lift vehicle (Falcon 9) and are working on a spacecraft that will dock with the International Space Station (Dragon). All that would have cost the Europeans about $5 billion!! Even Lockheed-Martin or Boeing would have spent far more. SpaceX can afford to lose several more Falcon 1 vehicles as they perfect their systems and still be way ahead of what anyone else has done in terms of cost efficiency. I really think the big boys better be looking in their rearview mirrors!

1 comment:

ken anthony said...

look at what SpaceX has already accomplished

You are so right.

People need some perspective and your post should certainly help with regard to that.

Thanks for the timing of separation info which cleared up some confusion for me.