Monday, 21 May 2012 09:59
May 21, 2012
After the long build-up to the beginning the new privatized space age, the transition has come across a bit of a hiccup.
Private rocket company SpaceX was scheduled to launch its first ship intended to dock with the International Space Station early in the morning on Saturday, May 19. However, the launch was ultimately aborted just moments before liftoff, as sensors indicated a potential problem in one of the engines.
The Falcon 9 features nine primary engines, all monitored by advanced engineering tools designed to warn of even the slightest chance of failure. One such indicator showed a build-up of pressure in the number five engine soon after all the rockets were successfully ignited, which automatically triggered a full engine shutdown and scrubbed the launch.
After initial readings suggested that the increased pressure might have come from a faulty valve in the engine, engineers inspected the rocket and found exactly that. With that piece replaced, SpaceX has deemed the ship fit to fly again.
Despite the setback, though, officials from both SpaceX and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration saw the incident as a positive sign, showing that the company's safeguards will prove effective in live launches.
"This is not a failure," Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said at a NASA press conference Saturday. "We aborted with purpose. It would be a failure if we were to have lifted off with an engine trending in this direction."
Bloomberg notes a report released this March by the Government Accountability Office found nine out of 10 launch failures could be blamed on problems with the engines, stage separation or avionics, making it particularly important that SpaceX's engine monitoring systems are up to the task.
With the Saturday launch scrapped, SpaceX hopes to get another shot early Tuesday morning. The Associated Press reports meteorologists predict a roughly 80 percent chance of a clear launch window, with only a few clouds causing potential worry.
If that window should close, a backup has been planned for the next day.
This launch represents a major step for NASA, as SpaceX is hoping to prove the potential of its Dragon capsule as viable, and hopefully cost-effective, transport and supply vessel for the space station. If successful, it would become the first non-governmental ship to dock with the station.