SpaceX is still investigating the anomaly that led to the loss of one of nine Falcon 9 rocket engines during the company's first commercial resupply services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Video of the Oct. 7 launch shows debris falling from the rocket as it speeds to orbit, though SpaceX says the engine did not explode because they continued to receive data from it.
In remarks to the Royal Aeronautical Society Nov. 16, SpaceX CEO and chief technical officer Elon Musk said Falcon 9 is designed to lose up to two engines to what's known in rocket-science lingo as a RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) and still reach orbit. For CRS-1, Falcon 9 was able to carry out its primary mission, successfully delivering the company's Dragon cargo capsule to berth with the space station. However, the engine anomaly led to the loss of the rocket's secondary payload -- a prototype messaging satellite built for fleet operator Orbcomm -- just days after launch.
The Merlin motor that powers the current Falcon 9 rocket has been in development for almost a decade, and Musk has said in the past that the engine experienced its share of RUD events during testing.
"On the plus side," he told the BBC in an interview last week, "we demonstrated that we can indeed complete a mission if we lose an engine, including in a relatively violent way."