SpaceX has released a statement explaining the low orbital insertion of the Orbcomm G2 communications satellite after losing one of the Falcon 9's engines during liftoff from Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, on 7 October.
The Orbcomm satellite was a secondary payload on a mission to launch a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station (ISS). While the Dragon successfully entered orbit and has docked with the ISS, the loss of one of Falcon 9's nine engines approximately 79sec into flight caused the launch vehicle to use more propellant than planned. NASA required a 99% probability of success to approve a second upper stage burn.
"While there was sufficient fuel on board to do so, the liquid oxygen on board was only enough to achieve a roughly 95% likelihood of completing the second burn, so Falcon 9 did not attempt a restart," says SpaceX. "Although the secondary payload, the Orbcomm satellite, was still deployed to orbit by Falcon 9, it was done so at the lower altitude used by Dragon in order to optimize the safety of the space station mission."
The cutting off the second burn pre-programmed into the system, says SpaceX, according to NASA's requirements.
The prototype satellite's orbit quickly decayed, and the satellite has since reentered the atmosphere and burned up. Orbcomm has declared it will file an insurance claim for $10 million and has no plans to divert future launches away from SpaceX.
Orbcomm could not be reached for immediate comment.