Yet Another Space Vehicle Explosion, 6-28-2015

Falcon 9 on pad

Space X Falcon 9 sitting on launch pad 6-28-15

Falcon 9 Explosion

Two minutes + later, Falcon 9 explodes and disintegrates

The Chairman of the Space X rocket launch vehicle company, Elon Musk, celebrated his birthday today, June 28, 2015. That celebration coincided with the launch of another Falcon 9 resupply rocket and package that was scheduled to rendezvous with the International Space Station in two days from launch.

A little after two minutes from launch this morning, on a bright perfectly clear day in Florida at Cape Canaveral, the Falcon 9 exploded into pieces and fell into the ocean.

The determination as to what happened is not in yet available but from my close viewing of the video feed from NASA-TV it looked like the top of the rocket stack failed and exploded first followed in milliseconds by total failure of the space vehicle. The time of destruction was very close to the expected separation of the first and second stages.

The immediate post-mortem from so-called “experts” on the various news channels kept repeating over and over that this does happen and will happen because the rocket and space business is a risky business. Of course and obviously, that is a given. No “expert” brilliance here. Not more than several months ago a Russian resupply mission to the ISS failed with the explosion of the rocket stack.

My frustration is that this has to happen at all. Reason: Chemical agents and modern chemical rocket motors have been used to get into space for decades if not centuries . The Chinese and Mongols were at war in 1232 and used rockets to bombard each other. In 1898 Russian engineer Konstantin Tsiolkovsy outlined his proposals for modern chemical rocket design. And finally, in 1915, American engineer Robert H. Goddard began to build and launch crude chemical rockets using solid propellant.

So, think about it. Here we are one hundred years after Goddard’s successful, sorta, rocket experiments and we are still using chemical rockets to launch humans and their survival supplies into space. There has to be a better way.

Supposedly, the aliens who visit this planet, if that actually happens,  use a form of magnetic control of space and earth environments to zip and dart around space and time. And I just can’t believe that DARPA or some other super-secret or black-ops U.S. program buried deep in some federal budget and in some remote location in Nevada or Utah. I just can’t believe they are not trying to discover the physics behind conquering gravity and moving mass through all environments smoothly and efficiently without the use of volatile and explosive chemical agents.

Maybe it the dreamer in me, maybe it’s my imagination as a science fiction writer that is conjuring up this reality of space craft lifting off the earth’s surface without sound or effort. But I just have to believe there is a better way to move mass from zero earth altitude to infinity. But where the hell is the answer? Is, in fact, anyone anywhere working on trying to solve this problem? I hope so.

Because unless and until some other clean, quiet, efficient, less dangerous, less volatile way is found the get into near or deep space, this problem will periodically reoccur and reoccur. And the next time a catastrophic explosion off the launch pad ensues there could be human beings at the tip of that launch vehicle.

If you want more information and brief history of rocket development, check out this NASA explainer:

Fred Fichman