Dragon Capsule Has Issue With Thrusters, Space Station Rendezvous Delayed
March 1, 2013

Dragon Capsule Has Issue With Thrusters, Space Station Rendezvous Delayed

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

SpaceX experienced its first hiccup in one of its official missions with the Dragon spacecraft, causing a delay in when the resupply vehicle will be reaching the International Space Station (ISS).

The company's Dragon spacecraft successfully launched this morning aboard the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:10 a.m. EST.

However, while everything seemed to be going smoothly after launch, SpaceX CEO and chief designer Elon Musk went on Twitter to let the world know the spacecraft finally got a ding in its track record.

Musk first reported about a problem with Dragon's thruster pods, saying that the spacecraft's system was "inhibiting three of four" pods from initializing. SpaceX flight operators decided to hold off on deploying the Dragon's solar arrays until they could get at least two thruster pods back online.

During a press conference after the event, NASA and SpaceX officials said that it seems as though the thruster pods are back online and the cargo ship will still be able to dock with the ISS. One NASA official said that they are not going to rush things, because they want to make sure, first and foremost, that things are safe before proceeding.

When asked what would happen if Dragon was unable to dock with the Space Station, Michael Suffredini, ISS program manager, ensured that crew members aboard the orbiting laboratory had plenty of supplies to keep them going. He said the significance of the loss would be the type of research they had planned for this specific flight and Dragon was not bringing a lot of things like clothing and water to the station.

SpaceX officials said they spent several hours fixing problems on Dragon after the launch, and they believe they have everything back online. They reported that there is no leakage and that no debris has come off the spacecraft, saying all systems appear to be intact and are functioning quite well at this point.

NASA and SpaceX officials still have to ensure everything is working okay with Dragon before still pursuing a rendezvous with the orbiting lab, but said a docking could take place as early as Sunday, depending on what takes place over the next 24 hours or more.

Dragon is currently being converted into a crew module, rather than just a resupply ship, so when one journalist asked Elon Musk how this would have effected a crewed mission, he said their safety would have been fine. According to Musk, in a scenario like this, that the outcome would be positive because they can afford to lose up to two thruster pods, and technically they could make due with just one.

"It would be a bit of a wobbly trip, but it would be possible," Musk said during the press conference.

Musk said this speed bump isn't a major concern, and pointed out that this is the fourth dragon mission, and the first time they have seen this issue. He said he believes this was just an anomaly, and that they are back on track here.

Now, the first step in a series of maneuvers for Dragon is to raise its orbit. Currently, the spacecraft is sitting in an orbit to where it would re-enter Earth's atmosphere in just a few days, so operators will be raising the spacecraft's orbit to give them more time to ensure everything is working out.

The officials said that it is likely that Sunday could provide an opportunity for Dragon to rendezvous with the space station, but that thought is "very preliminary."

NASA officials also wanted to point out in the mission that the problems that occurred during launch had nothing to do with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. Some people often may not distinguish the difference between the spacecraft and the rocket, and NASA wanted to ensure that everything with Falcon 9 worked perfectly, and the problems that occurred lied solely with Dragon.