The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida October 7, 2012. The unmanned, privately owned Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo capsule blasted off from Cape Canaveral on Sunday on a mission to restore a U.S. supply line to the International Space Station after the retirement of the space shuttle. (Photo : Reuters)
More issues surrounding the October 7 launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch emerged on Friday, when satellite operator Orbcomm announced that it's satellite fell off the rocket and burned up.
According to Reuters, Orbcomm piggybacked it's OG2 experimental communications satellite on Falcon 9. A problem during liftoff caused the satellite to fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere, the New Jersey-based company stated.
The satellite operator plans to launch a 17-member communications satellite network aboard two Falcon 9 rockets in 2013 and 2014, Reuters reported. Orbcomm will launch eight satellites in 2013 and the remaining nine satellites in 2014.
The prototype satellite aboard Sunday's launch was declared a total loss, Reuters reported. The loss forced Orbcomm to claim an insurance policy worth close to $10 million, "which would largely offset the expected cost of the OG2 prototype and associated launch services and launch insurance," the company said in a statement.
Reuters reported that the company planned for the prototype to reach 466 miles of altitude above the Earth. However, the satellite fell short after one of the rocket's nine Merlin engines shut down earlier than expected.
Despite the setback, Falcon 9 was able to successfully complete its primary mission of sending a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station, Reuters reported. SpaceX is under a $1.6 billion NASA contract to send 12 flights to the space station.
SpaceX spokeswoman Katherine Nelson told Reuters that NASA prohibited the company from "restarting the rocket's second stage- needed to deliver Orbcomm's satellite to its proper orbit-if there was not at least a 99 percent chance that the rocket had enough fuel to complete the burn."
The Dragon capsule reached the International Space Station on Wednesday after traveling 250 miles above Earth. Although Falcon 9 had enough fuel to restart its engine, it only had a 95 percent chance of reigniting with its level of liquid oxygen.
Nelson told Reuters, "Orbcomm understood from the beginning that the orbit-raising maneuver was tentative. They accepted that there was a high risk of their satellite remaining at the Dragon insertion orbit. SpaceX would not have agreed to fly their satellite otherwise, since this was not part of the core mission and there was a known, material risk of no altitude raise."
In a statement, Orbcomm declared, "Had Orbcomm been the primary payload on this mission...we believe the OG2 prototype would have reached the desire orbit."
The loss, however, was not a complete failure the company stated. According to Orbcomm, it achieved several important objectives in its test flight.