Space Exploration

SpaceX Launch Delayed . . . Again

Posted on: May 19th, 2012 by partapsingh No Comments

So, crossing your finger really doesn’t work, though I guess we should do some double-blind trials just to make sure.

The launch of SpaceX‘s Falcon 9/Dragon flight to the ISS went all the way to ignition early this morning, but engine five had abnormally high chamber pressure readings on lighting, requiring a computerized abort. SpaceX confirmed that this was not the result of a sensor malfunction nor any computer glitch. The fuel valve was apparently operating normally, so we’re still waiting to find out exactly what went wrong.

SpaceX noted that while a failure of two engines during flight would not cause a failure, all nine engines have to be operational for a successful liftoff. Pressure problems have occurred in testing and during the first demonstration flight as well, though in the first test the pressure was off by a narrower margin, suggesting a different fault.

The launch is rescheduled for either May 22nd at 3:44 a.m. or May 23rd 3:22 a.m. E.S.T.  SpaceX says that even if the malfunction cannot be resolved on the pad, a rollback to the hangar will not require a further delay. If necessary, they can simply replace engine five, but they are still hoping to repair the engine rather than replace it.

In response to a question about the public relations hit that the private space industry would take with this failure, the SpaceX representative noted that it was not a failure – the launch was aborted with cause – and that a real failure would have been to launch and lose the vehicle. However, it has to be noted that this is only the latest in a string of delays since the first demonstration in 2010, and the fact that it is an engine issue makes it especially disheartening.

Falcon 9

Falcon 9 (Courtesy SpaceX)

On the other hand, the confidence that they will be able to resolve the issue and be ready in a few days is a plus. If, however, it requires an engine replacement, we have to wonder about how ready private industry is to fulfill NASA’s requirements. We’ve already seen a delay of more than a year on this demonstration, and what does it say that the engines aren’t ready? As we saw with Challenger’s O-Ring and Columbia’s foam, there’s a lot that can go wrong even after you get the engines right.

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