SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket failure was first in 19 launches

February 11, 2018 – 11:40 am

Falcon9-failure1A SpaceX rocket exploded minutes after launching from Florida on an uncrewed mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station on Sunday. Now, mission controllers are starting the potentially tedious process of finding out what went wrong.

Carrying a Dragon capsule, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket disintegrated above Florida a little more than two minutes after launching on its ISS mission at 10:21 a.m. ET Sunday. The failure's root cause wasn't immediately clear, but SpaceX thinks a problem occurred in the second stage of the Falcon 9.

Each stage (or segment) of a Falcon 9 has its own engine and fuel, used to boost a payload higher and higher, to its predetermined orbit. The rocket's first stage, which has nine engines on a Falcon 9, falls away after it burns its fuel, at which point the second stage is expected to kick on and boost the payload even higher.

There were no reports of injuries as a result of the explosion, according to NASA and SpaceX.

Mission managers are now trying to learn more about the specific issue that caused the Falcon 9's massive malfunction, which is its first in 19 launches.

Watched #Dragon launch from @space_station Sadly failed Space is hard Teams assess below @NASAKennedy #YearInSpace

— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly)

Data sent back from the Dragon just after the Falcon 9 broke apart may help SpaceX in its investigation, company COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a Sunday news conference.

"There is nothing that stands out as being different for this particular flight that we've done for other flights, " Shotwell said. "I don't want to speculate as to what it's going to take to get back to flight because we don't yet know."

Ground controllers are not yet sure what kind of debris they will be able to recover after Sunday's disintegration.

The Dragon was carrying 4, 000 pounds of supplies for the ISS when the Falcon 9 broke apart above Florida. It was stocked with food, multiple science experiments and equipment, including a docking adaptor that was meant to help crewed vehicles built by SpaceX and Boeing fly astronauts to the space station by 2017.

This is the third failure of an uncrewed cargo mission to the ISS since October 2014.

Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before first stage shutdown. Will provide more info as soon as we review the data.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk)

Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus space capsule carrying thousands of pounds of supplies for the station was destroyed during an Antares rocket failure last year, while a Russian Progress supply craft failed to reach the ISS after launching earlier this year. The Progress made it to space, but didn't reach the station. Instead, it started to spin out of control, and eventually broke apart over the Pacific Ocean days after launch.


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  • avatar Anyone know likely avenues of investigation for kernel launch failures that disappear when run under cuda-gdb? Memory assignments are within spec, launches fail on the same run of the same kernel every time, and (so far) it hasn't failed within the debugger.
    • cuda-gdb spills all shared memory and registers to local memory. So when something runs ok built for debugging and fails otherwise, it usually means out of bounds shared memory access. cuda-memcheck might help, depending on what sort of card you are using. Fermi is better than older cards in that respect.

      Casting my mind back to the bad old days, I remember having an ornery GT9500 which used to throw similar NV13 errors and have random code failures when running very memory intensive kernels with a lot of shared memory activity. Never when debugging. I put it down to bad hardware …