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Take Four: SpaceX Going For Gold On Tuesday

May 21, 2012
Image Credit: SpaceX

Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com

SpaceX will again attempt to start a new chapter in the space industry on Tuesday, May 22 as its tries to launch its Dragon Capsule into the abyss for the fourth time.

The company is trying to make history by becoming the first private space firm to dock with the International Space Station.

The Dragon capsule, which will be launched on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, will bring supplies to the astronauts aboard the space station, as well as some science experiments drawn up by students.

SpaceX was planning to attempt its first launch to the orbiting post on April 30, but computer software kept the company from meeting that initial goal.  It later rescheduled the launch for May 7, but again, the company determined its flagship spacecraft was still not ready.

On Saturday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was in position on a launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral to take the Dragon to its destiny.  However, the computer software inside the rocket aborted the flight with less than a second to go.

As the crowd watched across the water and began to count down the last few seconds, engines from the rocket began to roar causing smoke to arise, until suddenly the software killed the rocket’s engine, delaying SpaceX yet another time.

A computer detected high pressure in one engine’s combustion chamber, triggering the system to perform an automatic shutdown.

Despite the disappointment for space enthusiasts keeping up with the launch, SpaceX said the aborted countdown showed rocket systems are working properly to prevent a launch failure.

“This is not a failure,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at a news conference shortly after the scrub. “It would be a failure if were to have lifted off with an engine trending in this direction.”

Engineers have replaced the faulty engine valve they believe was responsible for the aborted mission, and hope all goes according to plan on Tuesday for a new launch scheduled at 3:44 a.m.

So far, weather forecasts show a 60 percent chance of having favorable weather conditions for the new launch time.

“If things look good, we will be ready to attempt to launch on Tuesday,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said in a statement.

Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, tweeted on Sunday that simulations showed that the launch would have been OK even with the faulty valve on Saturday.

“Still, better to stop & fix,” he tweeted. “Recalling rockets after launch is not an option.”

The launch must be timed to the second if the Dragon capsule is to make its rendezvous with the space station correctly.  If all goes well, then SpaceX will perform several tests before actually docking its prized capsule with the ISS.

Assuming all the tests are positive, the capsule will be docking with the space station on Friday morning.

Upon a completely successful mission, SpaceX will earn itself a $1.6 billion NASA contract for 12 station resupply missions.

The Dragon capsule is not just a pinnacle for the future of commercialized space endeavors, but could also be the future of space travel for NASA astronauts as well.  SpaceX’s reusable spacecraft is capable of transforming into a vehicle that could carry astronauts into deeper space than just low orbit situations.  The capsule could eventually replace the need to rely on Russia to get American astronauts into orbit.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is also a newbie in space travel as well.  Tuesday’s launch will be the rocket’s third time to lift off from the Earth.  It will be the Dragon spacecraft’s second time.

If Tuesday’s launch ends up following suit and becoming delayed, then SpaceX could make another attempt on Wednesday.  The company has no shortage of dates, as the launch is important for both the future of its relationship with NASA, and an important milestone for private space companies.


Source: Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com



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