SpaceX engineers have successfully replaced a faulty valve in a first stage engine that triggered a launch abort on May 19 and that now clears the way for a second launch attempt of the firms Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft in the overnight hours early on Tuesday, May 22.
“We are ready for blastoff on May 22,” SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham told Universe Today during an interview at Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida earlier today as the Falcon 9 rocket was standing erect at the pad under a brilliant blue sky.
“The work to replace a faulty nitrogen engine valve is complete and took just a few hours,” Grantham confirmed to me.
After a thorough inspection of the vehicle and analysis of the repair, the SpaceX team cleared the rocket for launch. The rocket remained vertical during the repair work.
The weather forecast has improved markedly to an 80% chance of favorable conditions at launch time because the chance of rain showers has decreased. The primary concern is for cumulus clouds.
The launch will be broadcast live on NASA TV and via SpaceX Webcast at http://spacex.com
As on May 19, the launch window is instantaneous meaning SpaceX has just a fraction of a second to get the vehicle off the ground and there is no chance to recycle to a later launch time on the same day.
“The next possibility to launch after May 22 is on May 25,” said Grantham in the event of a scrub on Tuesday. “We could not reserve May 23 due to a conflict with Air Force requirements.”
The two stage Falcon 9 rocket is 157 feet tall. The first stage generates a million pounds of thrust from nine Merlin 1 C engines configured in a 3 by 3 by 3 arrangement.
The May 19 launch was aborted in a split second by the flight computer just 0.5 seconds before liftoff when they detected a slightly high pressure in the combustion chamber of engine number 5 located at the center of the first stage core.
If the launch proceeds as planned, the Dragon will separate from the Falcon 9 second stage some nine minutes after liftoff. Over the next two days, Dragon will close in on the ISS and then perform a series of complicated and stringent rendezvous and abort tests that bring the vehicle to within 1.5 miles and prove it can safely dock at the ISS and pull away in an emergency to prevent any chance of crashing into the ISS.
If NASA is satisfied with the test results, Dragon will be grappled with the robotic arm by US Astronaut Don Pettit and berthed at a port on the ISS on May 25. Astronauts would open the hatch on May 26 and begin unloading the nearly 1200 pounds of cargo consisting of non-critical items such as food, water, clothing and science experiments.
This is the first third test flight of the Falcon 9 rocket and the first test flight of the Dragon in this vastly upgraded configuration with solar panels.
Only four entities have ever sent a spacecraft to dock at the ISS – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union.
If successful, SpaceX will open a new era in spaceflight by giving birth to the first fully commercial mission to the orbiting space station complex and unlock vast new possibilities for its utilization in science and exploration.
SpaceX is under contract with NASA to conduct twelve Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS for a cost of some $1.6 Billion over the next few years.
The purpose of Dragon is to carry supplies to the ISS and partially replace the cargo capabilities of NASA’s now retired space shuttle. Dragon is a commercial spacecraft designed and developed by SpaceX that will eventually blast astronauts to space.
Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight – www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter