SpaceX’s Falcon 9 engine issue resolved


According to CBS News, a subtle engine problem that was responsible for the last-second abort of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket earlier this month has been resolved. If the ongoing tests go smoothly, NASA plans to press ahead with the launch of four astronauts on another Falcon 9 rocket on November 14th.

Liftoff from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center is targeted for 7:49 p.m. EST on Saturday, November 14th. If all goes according to plan, the Crew Dragon will perform an automated rendezvous, docking with the International Space Station’s forward port eight-and-a-half hours later, around 4:04 a.m. the following day. If bad weather or other issues delay the launch, the crew has another backup opportunity at 7:27 p.m. on Sunday, November 15th. If the backup opportunity is also delayed, the crew would likely have to wait until after a Russian spacewalk on November 18th.

During a teleconference on Wednesday, Hans Koenigsmann, Vice president of SpaceX’s Build and Flight Reliability, said the rocket’s flight computer commanded the abort after detecting unusual pressure readings in the turbopump machinery used by two of the rocket’s nine first-stage engines. Koenigsmann also said a detailed inspection revealed a tiny amount of nail polish-like red lacquer, used to clean components after anodizing treatments, that had not been thoroughly cleaned out and had clogged a 1/16th-inch-wide vent line.

As a result, the “ignitor fluid” used to spin up the turbopumps reached the machinery too soon, throwing off the engine start sequence. Had the flight computer not aborted the launch, Koenigsmann said, the engines in question could have been damaged during what he called a ‘hard start’. “It’s not necessarily bad, but in most cases, you know, it rattles the engine,” he said, “and it may cause a little bit of damage on the engine. In extreme cases, it may cause more damage. So in general, you do not want that, you want a good startup.”

SpaceX is working with its vendors to make sure the hardware is more thoroughly cleaned and inspected in the future before new engines are built. The company is also re-examining other components that might be susceptible to similar issues. All engines found with the issue will be replaced with thoroughly inspected engines known to be free of these blockages.



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