Space X Dragon spacecraft to get survival software update

Dragon will attempt to save itself in the event of a rocket explosion

A Space X Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida on July 28, 2015.

A Space X Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida on July 28, 2015.

Space X is giving its Dragon spacecraft a software upgrade so it might be able to save itself in the event of a rocket explosion.

The decision, announced by company founder Elon Musk, is one of the results of an investigation being carried out into the explosion last month of a Falcon 9 rocket and the loss of its Dragon cargo capsule. It had been heading to the International Space Station.

The accident occurred about two minutes after lift-off and was due to the failure of a strut in the rocket's second stage, according to preliminary findings, said Musk. The strut held down a helium bottle inside a liquid oxygen fuel tank and when it failed, the helium tank was propelled to the top of the liquid oxygen tank causing it to release a large amount of helium and precipitating the "over-pressure event" that led to the Falcon 9's televised demise.

While the rocket was completely destroyed in the explosion, the Dragon spacecraft survived and continued sending back telemetry data to Space X until it went under the horizon and contact was lost, said Musk. Shortly afterwards, it smashed into the ocean and subsequently sank.

"If we had deployed the parachute, we believe Dragon would have survived," Musk said in a conference call with reporters.

The Dragon spacecraft lands by parachute, so the hardware is already installed. What was lacking was the software to trigger its deployment in the event of a rocket explosion.

"The software on Dragon to initiate the parachute deployment was not in Dragon version 1. It was planned for version 2, so if something like this happens in the future, the Dragon spacecraft will save itself," said Musk. "In Dragon 2, it would thrust itself away from the vehicle quite rapidly and once it reached a decent distance, it would initiate the parachute."

The second version of Dragon is the one being designed by Space X to carry both cargo and humans into space, but the new software will be in all future Dragon spacecraft. The next launch isn't planned until at least September.

Musk, who several times underlined the preliminary nature of the findings, noted the difficulty of launching rockets.

"The passing grade is 100 percent every time. It's not possible to issue a recall or a patch. From the moment of lift off, it's 100 percent or nothing," he said.

He also put some blame on company culture.

"To some degree the company as a whole became a little bit complacent," he said.

The company's last significant failure was seven years ago, when Space X numbered about 500 people, said Musk. Today it employs about 4,000 people so the majority of the workforce have never experienced such an accident.

"When you've only ever seen success, you don't fear failure quite as much," said Musk.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags popular scienceSpace Xsoftware

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?