SpaceX says fire around main engine damaged pneumatic system, forcing engine shutdown 29s into maiden flight

A fuel leak caused a fire around the main engine and led to the failure of Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Falcon 1 launch vehicle 29s into its maiden flight on 24 March. The rocket was carrying a US Air Force Academy satellite.

Falcon burn W445
                                                                                                                    © Thom Rogers
A fire was detected around the top of the main engine

The failure is still being investigated by the US government and SpaceX, but the company is releasing information on what it thinks ended the flight. Starting 25s after lift-off, SpaceX says, a fuel leak of unknown origin caused a fire around the top of the main engine, damaging the first stage’s helium pneumatic system.

Once the pneumatic pressure dropped below a critical level, a spring-return safety function of the engine’s pre-valves forced them closed, shutting down the main engine at 29s. According to SpaceX, the rocket’s systems were operating normally until the fire damaged the pneumatic system.

The 24 March launch was the fourth attempt from SpaceX’s site on Omelek Island in the Pacific. “I would hope that the next launch occurs in less than six months,” says SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk. Developed privately, the Falcon I is designed to place a 570kg (1,250lb) payload into low Earth orbit.


Source: Flight International