New SpaceX Falcon 9 Problems: Cracks in Turbopump Turbine Blades

Falcon 9 lifts off. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

There have been more problems uncovered with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster.

Congressional investigators are raising new safety concerns about Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s plans for future manned launches, citing persistent cracking of vital propulsion-system components, according to government and industry officials familiar with the details.

The Government Accountability Office’s preliminary findings reveal a pattern of problems with turbine blades that pump fuel into rocket engines, these officials said. The final GAO report, scheduled to be released in coming weeks, is slated to be the first public identification of one of the most serious defects affecting Falcon 9 rockets.

The crack-prone parts are considered a potentially major threat to rocket safety, the industry officials said, and may require redesign of what are commonly called the Falcon 9’s turbopumps. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they said, has warned SpaceX that such cracks pose an unacceptable risk for manned flights….

Industry officials have known about problems with cracked blades on Falcon 9 versions for many months or even years. But cracks continued to be found during tests as recently as September 2016, Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, confirmed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week….

Mr. Lightfoot said “we’re talking to [SpaceX] about turbo machinery,” adding that he thinks “we know how to fix them.” In the interview, Mr. Lightfoot said he didn’t know if the solution would require a potentially time-consuming switch to bigger turbopumps.

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  • They could toss them away into the ocean after every use and still be ahead of the competition.

  • Jeff Saretsky

    This is old news. It’s just been repackaged in the form of a classic Andy Pasztor article.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Yup, this goes back to the short stand down after first landing in Dec ’15. Also interesting how they’ve already ground qualified Merlin1D at higher thrust level for block 5. Perhaps this data is stale…Otherwise something doesn’t add up.

  • Turbine black cracking goes back a long way for most manufacturers and operators. A turbine blew at O’hare not too long ago.

  • Well that explains it then. Thanks for saving the hassle of reading another Pasztor shiill.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Well yes, the general phenomena is as old as turbines. In fact RS-25 was qual tested with known cracked turbine blades because they knew it was a common issue. It was also the major reason for scoping or manual inspection of the turbine stack after flight.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Good or bad, right or wrong, Musk has higher ambitions. I personally like that, rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

  • P.K. Sink

    Yeah…as soon as I saw WSJ, my BS alarm started clanging.

  • It’s nice to see we’re both on the same higher plane there, even with our differences. I never thought full reusability was going to be easy. I’m amazed to see how far it has come in such a short period of time. It still has a long way to go though.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    SpaceX engineers are not highschool dropouts, and they also have an unwritten motto: Fix it? Yes we can, yes we have.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Seems SpaceX has been working on this issue with NASA for a long time and part of the block 5 specs is the elimation of any cracks at all. Sounds like this is a problem that already has a solution?

  • windbourne

    he is an overachiever.