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Falcon 1 rocket static test firing prior to launch, at Vandenberg AFB, Space Launch Complex 3 West (SLC-3W).

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SpaceX's maiden launch was doomed by a corroded aluminum nut, a review panel says.

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The Falcon 1 rocket was leaking fuel four minutes prior to lift-off, causing the first stage engine to catch fire about 25 seconds into its rocketís much shorter than expected maiden flight, dooming the rocket and its payload.

"All current analysis shows that the nature of the problem was a pad processing error the day before the launch" - Elon Musk, chairman and chief executive officer of El Segundo, California based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)

The cause of the leak was human error, not a design flaw.


Credit: Thom Rogers/SpaceX

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A fire fed by a fuel leak caused the failure of SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket.



The unexplained fuel leak occurred 25 seconds into the launch near the top of the main engine on the rocket's first stage. The fire cut a helium pneumatic system, and when pneumatic pressure fell, a safety function within the valves forced them to close, shutting down the main engine 29 seconds into the flight.

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The new Falcon 1 rocket has been lost on its maiden flight.

The US vehicle, developed by the Space Exploration Technologies Corp, was destroyed soon after take-off from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
An onboard camera appeared to show the rocket rolling out of control shortly before the video signal was lost.
SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp) spokeswoman Gwynn Shotwell told reporters on a conference call that there was about a minute of powered flight.

"We do know that the vehicle did not succeed after that. Clearly this is a setback but we're in this for the long haul" - Gwynn Shotwell

"We had a successful lift-off and Falcon made it well clear of the launch pad, but unfortunately the vehicle was lost later in the first-stage burn. More information will be posted once we have had time to analyse the problem." - Elon Musk

The vehicle left its launch pad on the Kwajalein Atoll at just after 2230 GMT. It was the fourth attempt at a flight; a number of technical issues had prompted SpaceX to delay the inaugural mission.
The rocket was attempting to carry a 19.5kg satellite to a low-Earth orbit of 450km.

The satellite, FalconSat-2, was built by US Air Force Academy cadets to investigate the phenomenon known as "space weather".
The Falcon 1 is the first in a line of vehicles the SpaceX company hopes will shake up rocket services. It is a two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. The first stage is designed to parachute into the ocean to be recovered and used again.
With the relatively low price of £3.8m per flight, the Falcon 1 is making a serious attempt to undercut other players in what is an overcrowded launcher market.

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In a brief statement posted on the company's web site, SpaceX, has set the inaugural launch of its Falcon 1 rocket for 21:00 GMT (4 pm EST) Thursday from Omelek Island.. The announcement came after the company conducted a three second, static first stage engine fire test ,on Tuesday.

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According to company spokeswoman Dianne Molina, SpaceX is continuing launch checks at the Omelek Island complex in Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.
This means a countdown test is planned for today.
The Previous launch-pad checks had highlighted a couple of problems during the countdown test, which include a faulty ground helium supply and a faulty flight video camera.

The launch would be pushed back to Thursday.


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No information from SpaceX about a launch today...

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The tentative launch window for the maiden flight of Falcon 1 is March 20 through 25.

The gating items are receiving a shipment of liquid oxygen (LOX) from Hawaii and switching out the 2nd stage tank. Long term operations on Kwaj will require that they install a state-of-the-art, high reliability LOX plant on island. In the meantime, SpaceX will get through first launch with LOX shipments from Hawaii and whatever output they can generate from the LOX plant.

SpaceX are also replacing the 2nd stage tank, following discovery of a small leak. Fortunately, a Falcon 2nd stage tank just barely fits through the door of a standard cargo airplane (no C-17 required), so the flight is relatively inexpensive and readily available.
Fixing the leak in the tank being shipped back is not a huge task, but also not something easily done far away from the factory. Countdown procedures have been modified to prevent such leaks from developing in the future.


Credit: Thom Rogers/SpaceX

The static fire performed during the last countdown attempt was found to be helpful as a pre-flight systems checkout, so they will be doing one again three or four days before the next countdown (most likely March 17). In addition, they are doing another systems review with DARPA, AF and NASA in early March.

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SpaceX has successful tested the Falcon 1 engine.
The go-ahead for the launch will be at least another week or two, due to range restrictions and logistical requirements.

"We were very happy to be able to execute a flight countdown all the way to lighting the engine" - Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder and chief executive officer.

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