back to article Computers abort SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

SpaceX yesterday failed once again to get the SES-9 satellite aloft atop a Falcon 9 rocket, after the lifter's computers shut down the engines shortly after motor ignition. The Falcon 9's motors ignite We have ignition and lift.... The Falcon 9 engines shut down ...oh, no we don't The launch was first delayed by a boat …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'low thrust alarm'

    should've used 'John Holmes Mode'.

    1. Little Mouse

      Re: 'low thrust alarm'

      Even with Hard rocket failures, Lazy throttle valves, Low thrust alarms and all the rest, I'd say that a Falcon 9 still tops any four-wheeled-wank-wagon, as penis substitutes go.

  2. GreenJimll

    Not the first Falcon 9 FT launch

    This is the second payload to use the Falcon 9 FT (aka Falcon 9 v1.2) stick. The first was Flight 20 - the Orbcomm-OG2 launch late last year, which was also the F9 first stage that did the neat return to landing site trick after stage separation. The reason you might have been confused is that SES-9 was originally slated to be the first FT launch, but they switched it round with the lighter Orbcomm birds. This was so that a second stage test could be done after the Orbcomms were away (specifically a relight of the second stage Merlin to boost to a higher orbit, which SES-9 needs and Orbcomm-OG2 didn't).

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Not the first Falcon 9 FT launch

      Fair enough - thanks for the clarification.

  3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Quite positive really

    It's better to fail-safe rather than make a mega-expensive fireball on the launch pad that destroys the payload (even more important once the payload includes wetware)

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Quite positive really

      That is indeed true. Proceed with caution.

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Quite positive really

      At least the Falcon can shutdown its engines, unlike some other rockets *cough*Shuttle*cough*

      1. Stanislaw

        Re: Quite positive really

        *cough*Shuttle*cough*

        Yup. Once the SRBs were lit, it was no longer a case of "are we going?" but one of "which direction are we going?"

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Quite positive really

          Yup. Once the SRBs were lit, it was no longer a case of "are we going?" but one of "which direction are we going?"

          And if the range safety officer pressed their button, it would be been going in all directions all at once, very quickly!

          It's a real shame that boat got in the way. I hope it was identified and the owner given a thorough explanation of the rules of the sea and how waters can be closed when needed. They literally are a waste of oxygen.

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Quite positive really

            "

            I hope it was identified and the owner given a thorough explanation of the rules of the sea and how waters can be closed when needed.

            "

            Some waters can be restricted, not all. I would imagine the danger area extends into international waters. The other issue is in disseminating the information regarding restricted zones to all craft. How would you inform the skipper of a sailboat inbound from Jamaica - bearing in mind that he is not required to keep any sort of radio watch, and even if he does it will probably be on a VHF channel which will be out of range of coastal stations until he is quite close to shore.

            The only practical way is via a good radar watch and helicopter intercepts - in which case blame the radar operators instead of the vessel's captain (though small vessels won't show up on long-range radar).

            1. bazza Silver badge

              Re: Quite positive really

              "The other issue is in disseminating the information regarding restricted zones to all craft. How would you inform the skipper of a sailboat inbound from Jamaica - bearing in mind that he is not required to keep any sort of radio watch,"

              Well, if they can't be bothered to pay attention to charts like this and the abundant warning notices and information therein, then they shouldn't be entirely surprised if on launch day some extremely grumpy coastguards turn up or bits of rocket start landing on their boat.

          2. Hopalong

            Re: Quite positive really

            It has been said that in the days of the Shuttle, the range safety officers made the point of not mixing with the astronauts in case they had to terminate a shuttle flight and kill the astronauts.

            The shuttle had no effective escape system. Only the first test flights did the Shuttle have ejection seats, and that was just for the two pilots.

        2. awavey

          Re: Quite positive really

          which is why the SRBs were only lit at T-0, when you commited to launch. the Shuttle launch aborted 5 times I think within the final countdown sequence when all 3 main engines were lit (which happens at T-6seconds) ramping upto launch thrust, the closest they got to launch and aborted was within 2 seconds,literally a 5..4..3..2..abort, any closer might have got interesting. but it was an automated launch sequence abort and should have been possible right up to the command to fire the pyrotechnics at T-0

          once the SRBs were lit, then you were going somewhere,and although the ability to stop them firing is seen as one of their main disadvantages,abeit taken against the quantity of thrust they produce,theres generally not alot you can do within the first 2mins of any rocket launch flight, where stopping a main chunk of thrust is really the better option, than just keeping going.

          you stop the SRBs on the Shuttle during launch, and it would simply have crashed instead and you are still strapped to a gigantic aluminium tank of combustive fuel,the SRBs really arent the problem in that kind of setup.

      2. cray74

        Re: Quite positive really

        At least the Falcon can shutdown its engines, unlike some other rockets *cough*Shuttle*cough*

        Shuttle flights STS-41-D, STS-51-F, STS-51, STS-55, and STS-68 all went through successful pad aborts, shutting down their SSMEs without flying.

        Yes, the shuttle was committed to flight once the SRBs lit, but the launch sequence lit and tested the liquid fueled main engines 6.6 seconds before the solid-fueled boosters lit. The process was called, "Redundant Set Launch Sequencer Abort."

    3. eesiginfo

      Re: Quite positive really

      Agreed... 'failing safe' is good.

      As is getting a major part of the rocket back on the ground (for re-use).

      It's progress, however, it certainly highlights what must be 'fundamental difficulties' in harnessing rocketry for use as a mundane form of transport.

      It's been 70 years since this type of rocket began to fly, with billions and the best brains invested into this technology... and it's still problematic.

      Thankfully it has paid off, delivering global communications that we now take for granted...

      ... but my goodness, my hopes are high for the Skylon project.

      Let's hope that it delivers that 'next generation' of space flight that we've all been waiting for, providing genuinely repetitive 'take off and land' operations, in a broad weather spectrum.

      Just another 4 or 5 years until the first test flights.

      I can hardly wait :)

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: Quite positive really

        Closer to 90 years, I think, but YES. Part of the problem might be that, compared to, say, cars, rockets aren't exactly produced in really large numbers.* Mass production tends to shake out the bugs. On the other hand, when a rocket malfunctions you can't simply pull over and look under the hood...

        *contrary to comrade Nikita Sergeyewich Khrushchev's claims that the soviet union had factories that churned out rockets 'like sausages'

  4. Mike Shepherd

    "Rising oxygen temps due to hold for boat and helium bubble triggered alarm"

    It must be rocket science, because I don't understand it.

    1. Geoff May

      Re: "Rising oxygen temps due to hold for boat and helium bubble triggered alarm"

      There was a boat in the ocean down range from the launch pad. Had there been a problem after launch, it is possible that the SpaceX might have fallen on the boat so they had to wait for the boat to move.

      This delay cause temperatures to rise.

      1. Mike Shepherd

        Re: "Rising oxygen temps due to hold for boat and helium bubble triggered alarm"

        Ah, that makes sense now. In China, the approach seems to be "It was the villagers' fault for living there": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yfMbGPf4r9g

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          LOX

          it appears there may be a issues with the latter, specifically keeping it at the right temperature.

          That's the funny thing about liquid oxygen, it has an annoying habit of becoming gaseous oxygen. Still, any launch that can "get off at Edge Hill", so to speak, has to be admired. I've had less sensitive lovers than a Falcon 9.

          1. Killing Time

            Re: LOX

            Controlling the cryogenic temperature is a balance between controlling the vapour space pressure and the incoming ambient energy to the liquid. If your vessel insulation cannot cope then you have to start venting vapour and losing oxidant. Fundamental decisions will have been made regarding vessel insulation effectiveness and time on the pad at design time. It's all part of the learning curve...

          2. Hopalong

            Re: LOX

            The FT uses super chilled LOX, which is denser than normal LOX, they get more performance that way. But the down side is you can not hold for any real length of time as it warms up and becomes less dense long before you get boil off. SpaceX do not even start loading the LOX and the RP-1 (which is also super chilled) until T - 35 minutes so it does not get the chance to warm up before launch.

            Like most things rockets, everything has a trade off, in this case, extra performance against hold / recycle times.

            If you thought rocket science is hard, try rocket engineering!

        2. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: "Rising oxygen temps due to hold for boat and helium bubble triggered alarm"

          I have to agree with the Chinese approach, especially when the barge is in international waters and not subject to US jurisdiction (i.e. the US can't chase them off)

          Launch and let the rockets fall where they may.

          I wonder if Musk can sue them for damages?

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "Rising oxygen temps due to hold for boat and helium bubble triggered alarm"

        "it is possible that the SpaceX might have fallen on the boat "

        I wonder what the odds are of hitting a boat in 1000's of square miles of ocean?

        Official Risk assessment and threat level: Meh!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rocket Science

      Fuel, oxidant, ignition - rocket science is pretty simple

      Rocket technology - the computers, switches, sensors, software to survive the launch and travel into space - that's the fancy stuff.

  5. AdamT

    Volcano Lair?

    And presumably we'll find out shortly if Musk really does have any "volcano lair" tendencies as, in this situation, surely the temptation to use one's fortune to hunt down the boat's skipper and do something amusingly unpleasant to them must be very, very tempting ....

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Volcano Lair?

      Why are you assuming that the boat's skipper knew anything about the launch or the need to stay clear of the area he was in? If you were the skipper of a yacht heading toward, say, China and had been at sea for the past 4 weeks, with only the usual VHF transceiver and shortwave receiver on board, please explain how you would find out about any temporary danger areas caused by a twice-delayed rocket launch.

    2. Fibbles
      Mushroom

      Re: Volcano Lair?

      Wait till he finds out it was the chief exec of United Launch Alliance taking the weekend off for a well deserved fishing trip.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No more holds for boats downrange

    If it were up to me, I'd go ahead with the launch if some idiot in a boat wanders into the area that's supposed to be clear. They should know the risks.

    1. Roger Varley

      Re: No more holds for boats downrange

      According to some reports I have read, the boat in question belonged to the US Navy. The US Navy tend to take a dim view of people launching rockets in their direction, and would be seriously miffed if it actually hit them.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: No more holds for boats downrange

        "According to some reports I have read, the boat in question belonged to the US Navy. "

        IN that case, they should have been perfectly aware of the restrictions in place

      2. Charles Manning

        Re: No more holds for boats downrange

        But....

        It wasn't in their direction. It was surely going upwards - way over them.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: No more holds for boats downrange

        "The boat in question belonged to the US Navy."

        Someone's about to be promoted to captaining a desk.

    2. Blofeld's Cat
      Devil

      Re: No more holds for boats downrange

      "They should know the risks."

      The survivors could hire lawyers, PR consultants, politicians, etc.

      Probably much cheaper to abort the launch.

      1. Little Mouse
        Mushroom

        Re: No more holds for boats downrange

        Probably much cheaper to ensure there are no survivors..

        Although I can understand Elon not wanting to play that particular card too early...

    3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: No more holds for boats downrange

      "They should know the risks"

      Why should they know the risks? There are NOTAMS issued that pilots must read before a flight to check for restricted airspace along their planned and alternate routes, but there is no such thing available to mariners because it would be impractical, due to the fact that the restriction may only have become necessary a few days before coming into force, and ships can be at sea without effective communications for a lot longer than that.

    4. PJF
      Devil

      Re: No more holds for boats downrange

      but, but, but, I/we wanted a closer look at the lift-off so we could take some pix...

  7. Filippo

    It's really rather nice to see that they *can* shut down the engines after they're started (without blowing up the rocket).

    1. Mike Shepherd

      *Doesn't apply to fireworks

      This doesn't apply to fireworks (euphemistically known as "solid rocket boosters").

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: *Doesn't apply to fireworks

        But on rockets with mixture of liquid fuelled engines and solid boosters, they start the liquid fuelled engines first, and make sure they are working, before lighting the unstoppable solids. So the Shuttle, or anything else with solid boosters, can abort in exactly the same way as this did.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: *Doesn't apply to fireworks

          " So the Shuttle, or anything else with solid boosters, can abort in exactly the same way as this did."

          Shuttle had an "interesting" launch mode.

          Light the main engines. The kick would make the entire stack swing. When it swung back (about 3 seconds) the SRBs would be lit simultaneously.

          At that point it was impossible to hold it down. The launch clamps couldn't hold the entire thrust back. For that matter they couldn't hold back the thrust of _one_ lit SRB (and in any case the pad's underpinnings couldn't withstand the erosion of one being run to completion whilst being held there)

          The single biggest risk of any shuttle launch was one of the SRBs either not lighting, them not lighting simultaneously or any form of asymetric thrust out of them. At that point the chinese village incident would seem minor.

          The thing really was a rube-goldberg (heath robinson) clusterfuck of epic proportions and the miracle is that more people weren't killed along the way.

      2. Vinyl-Junkie
        Mushroom

        Re: *Doesn't apply to fireworks

        Assuming the commentators on last week's ESA launch knew what they were talking about with the Rokot launch, it isn't possible to abort that once it's got close to being lit, either (launch broadcast 55'30").

        Which is slightly worrying, given that it was based on an ICBM. No last minute reprieve there then!.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: ICBM

          No last minute reprieve there then!

          They might be able to disarm the warhead in flight, or possibly change the target coordinates even. That would make a big difference to the outcome...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: ICBM

            The thing about nuke-tipped ICBMs is that they're designed to hit their targets reliably, which means designing them to be hard to misdirect (amongst other things).

            From what I've heard - an ex boss of mine had inside information (nothing he told me sounded like it was sensitive information, mind you) - once the things are launched, they're built to do nothing but hit the specified target and don't listen for further instructions in part to ensure that the target can't misdirect them that way (the implication being that they simply don't have radio receivers at all). Any encryption scheme is vulnerable to attack and let's face it, if you thought your enemy's ICBMs could be re-targetted or disarmed by remote control after launching, you'd put an awful lot of effort into trying to acquire the ability to do so yourself.

          2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

            Re: ICBM

            AFAIK the safeguard mechanisms in ICBMs etc. are designed in a way that the last 'switch' to arm the warhead is triggered by the acceleration at launch (pretty hard to fake that). There are a lot of other safeguards as well - there have been incidents where the rocket blew up in the silo during launch drills or maintenance and the warhead did a littlie ballistic hop without detonating.

            (I guarded nuclear weapons (grenades for field artillery) for some 9 months in my youth and it kinda got me interested in the subject. And I've always liked rockets anyway.)

  8. Florida1920 Silver badge
    Angel

    When my low thrust alarm activates

    I just get another cup of coffee. Happens a lot more often these days.

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    [MODE=CLEESE_HOLDING_DEAD_PARROT] Held for a boat downrange?????

    Where in the constitution does it say "Ye peeple shalle be free to goe abowt theyr lives and shalle e'en tayke to ye sees in bowts withowt being clonked on ye bonce wyth sundrie rocket parts?"

    Nanny state. Wouldn't have happened in my day. Fought on the beaches etc etc.

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Actually, I was surprised they even considered launching after the holdfire, as in my experience it's always been an automatic scrub if the engines light at all.

  11. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Try looking for the correct scapegoat

    Rather than blaming the captain of the vessel (who would not necessarily have been expected to know of the restriction), perhaps people should be questioning why the presence of a vessel which would be unlikely to have been moving as fast as 20kts was not discovered until literally the last minute?

    1. Hopalong

      Re: Try looking for the correct scapegoat

      They were probably monitoring the boat as it approached the edge of the 'no-sail' zone, expecting it to hove-to just out side and wait for the zone to expire, but only called 'range red' when it did not stop and sailed into the zone and did not acknowledge the repeated calls on VHF by the coast guard.

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