While most who watched a live feed of Sunday night’s American Falcon 9 launch didn’t notice, one of the space craft’s nine main engines seemed to blow up.
The engine, which flared brightly and strew debri in its wake, was consequently and instantly shut down by computers operating in real time, according to an ars technia report.
Launch audio from NASA and Space X, the private American company that built the Falcon 9's capsule, described the mission as "nominal," and the craft successfully entered the correct orbit and is on schedule to dock with the International Space Station on Wednesday.
After the engine failure, which occurred at 27 seconds into launch, the Falcon 9 rerouted the damaged engine’s allotted fuel to the remaining eight engines for a longer burn that set the craft on proper course. The Falcon 9 has nine engines, as the name implies, and is built to recover from such an engine failure.
Data about the incident was automatically sent to NASA just after orbit was achieved by onboard computers that compensated for the single engine failure resulting in the following NASA report:
Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it. Our review indicates that the fairing that protects the engine from aerodynamic loads ruptured due to the engine pressure release, and that none of Falcon 9’s other eight engines were impacted by this event.
As designed, the flight computer then recomputed a new ascent profile in real time to ensure Dragon’s entry into orbit for subsequent rendezvous and berthing with the ISS. This was achieved, and there was no effect on Dragon or the cargo resupply mission.
Falcon 9 did exactly what it was designed to do. Like the Saturn V, which experienced engine loss on two flights, Falcon 9 is designed to handle an engine out situation and still complete its mission.