NASA and SpaceX confirmed on Wednesday that they’re concentrating on November 14 for the launch of the Crew-1 mission that can carry 4 astronauts to the International Space Station.
Originally scheduled to launch on Halloween, NASA delayed the launch after an engine concern aborted an October 2 launch try of a Falcon 9 rocket, at T-2 seconds, carrying a GPS III satellite tv for pc for the US Air Force.
During a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, SpaceX’s Hans Koenigsmann defined what occurred with the October 2 launch abort and what has been finished to deal with the problem going ahead.
Two of the rocket’s 9 first-stage engines ignited early through the early October launch try, and this triggered an automated abort of the engines. (Had the abort not triggered, it is seemingly that nothing dangerous would have occurred, however Koenigsmann stated beneath sure, excessive eventualities, rattling from an early ignition might have triggered important injury to the Merlin engines).
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Replicating the problem
SpaceX technicians eliminated the 2 engines and shipped them from Florida to the corporate’s take a look at web site in McGregor, Texas, the place they have been capable of replicate the issue. They discovered that a aid valve inside the fuel generator—a tiny rocket inside the engine that begins up and powers its equipment—was clogged with a masking lacquer akin to nail polish. They have been capable of present that eradicating the lacquer from the vent gap allowed the engines to start out up usually.
This lacquer is utilized throughout an anodizing course of to deal with aluminum parts of the fuel generator. It is purported to be subsequently eliminated, however in the case of these two engines, a tiny quantity of the fabric had been trapped inside a bore gap lower than 2mm throughout.
“So it was a really great find in that sense, and allowed us to fix something that is very subtle but can have obviously some negative impact on the engine operation,” Koenigsmann stated.
After this, SpaceX inspected different engines throughout its fleet (the corporate inspected new boosters solely, as Falcon 9 first phases which have already flown are not topic to this concern). SpaceX discovered that two of the engines on the Falcon 9 rocket that might be used for the Crew-1 launch additionally had this downside. Those two engines at the moment are being swapped out for new Merlins.
The new plan
If all goes to plan, SpaceX will launch two new Falcon 9 first phases earlier than Crew 1: the GPS III mission on November 4, and the Sentinel-6 mission for NASA on November 10. Provided these launches go properly, NASA will seemingly persist with the November 14 date for the Crew-1 mission that can ship NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, alongside with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency mission specialist Soichi Noguchi, to the International Space Station. Their Crew Dragon would rendezvous with the area station about 8.5 hours after launching at 7:49pm EST (00:49 UTC on November 15).
This lacquer concern got here as a stunned on condition that SpaceX has actually launched lots of of new Merlin 1D rocket engines over the last decade and, till now, had not seen this downside with the masking agent.
“It’s certainly possible that we had cases of it earlier, and they were appreciably so harmless that we completely missed them,” Koenigsmann stated. It is additionally potential that a small course of was modified so that each one of the lacquer was not eliminated, as this explicit therapy is finished by an outdoor vendor. But, he admitted, “It’s difficult to explain how this works for so many years and then, suddenly, you see this coming up in the data.”
What Koenigsmann appears assured in is that the problem will not happen once more. The firm’s engineers now perceive it, know learn how to look for it, and will not be stunned by it once more. “Rocketry is tough and requires a lot of attention to detail,” he stated. (*9*)