So Why Did The Falcon 9 Go Boom?

Thunder00t has a video here.

He has a rather snarky take on the anomaly and frankly I think he went a little overboard. He’s right that NASA hasn’t had a ground based failure since the old Atlas days.  So far until this happened SpaceX hadn’t had any fueling issues either.  So I don’t think that SpaceX is as incompetent as Thunderf00t seems to think that they are.

Elon Musk is apparently looking for videos. Apparently the cameras that SpaceX had on the pad, if any were destroyed.  So the US launch report is the best there is.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for the Falcon 9

Along with some pictures.

And a manual for prospective customers.

Click to access f9guide.pdf

So what happened? Here’s the video.

And slowed down.

This video has some excellent commentary.

So what do I think happened.  Well based on the fact that it looks like the explosion started just as fueling was complete and at the fueling coupling, if it were me I would look for an electrical issue.  Liquid Oxygen and sparks do not mix Now I looked for any electrical equipment on the Falcon 9 in the area of the explosion and didn’t see any. On the other hand, the fueling coupling may have had a temperature or pressure sensor, or both.  Now that kind of sensor is low voltage and I would expect any spark hazard, but a broken wire could create a spark.  Then there’s issue of a potential static discharge.  In certain weather conditions static discharge becomes a problem.  Looking at those grey skies, static voltages look to be present.

Then there’s another issue that crops up.  Looking more closely are the condensation around the second stage coupling, the blow off looks like typical condensation and it changes just a bit, as if a pressure is behind it for just a few seconds before the beginning of the boom.  If that’s venting LOX, which I’m going to guess that it was, all it would take is an electrostatic zap of the of the same kind that everybody has zapped themselves by accident and even a little kerosene vapor around and poof, no more rocket.

If the fueling coupling was even a little loose any movement of the Falcon 9 on the pad could have caused all three issues to happen and that’s what it looked like to me.

US launch looks like a good cause  and I suspect that donations are appreciated.


  1. Funkenring · September 10, 2016

    Presumably they would have used a passive or low voltage device for temp/pressure sensing (thermocouple, thermistor, etc). The ESD hypothesis seems worthy of consideration, given the length of the wiring needed for those sensors, or the myriad other sensors embedded in the rocket.

    I will be much more impressed with SpaceX when I see them reuse a motor, without another fireball.


  2. Jose Silva · September 10, 2016

    A snarky and ill-informed Thunderf00t video? In other words, a Thunderf00t video… 🙂

    Depending on how one defines ground failure, Nasa had a pretty big one after the Atlas – Apollo 1, which also happened during a test. And then there’s Challenger and Columbia. These things happen because rocket engineering is hard. (Engineering is hard, much harder than non-engineers think; and scientists are particularly simplistic in their understanding of what engineering entails.)

    I was surprised that TF’s video only identified the free market as the culprit. Clearly it was a combination of Brexit, the Patriarchy, the free market, and of course, Elon Musk fanbois (which is what anyone who calls TF’s many engineering errors in his Hyperloop videos is called by TF’s retinue).



  3. Old Surfer · September 12, 2016

    Liquid oxygen doesn’t burn or detonate on it’s own. but even a small amount of combustible contaminate in liquid oxygen can detonate. Leather washers caused an explosion with the X-1 rocket plane, and apparently LOX and charcoal make a dandy high explosive. On the other hand, I wouldn’t rule out sabotage, or a screwup on the interstage that may not be SpaceX’s fault at all.


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