Update: Problem Delays Dragon Rendezvous With History

By  //  March 1, 2013

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Thruster Problems Now Corrected

(VIDEO: ramu vennavelly)

BREVARD COUNTY • KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLORIDA – The Dragon is poised for a rendezvous with history, but a thruster problem has delayed its trek to the International Space Station by a day.

A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday morning carrying the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft into orbit on a resupply mission for the International Space Station. (Image by Ed Pierce)

At 10:10 a.m. Friday, a SpaceX unmanned Dragon spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Pad 40 in a picturesque launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on the first-ever private cargo mission to the International Space Station.

About 70 seconds into the flight, the 157-foot two-stage Falcon 9 rocket rocket achieved supersonic speed and 55 seconds later was traveling about 10 times the speed of sound at a distance of 56 miles above Earth.

After main engine cutoff, the Falcon 9’s first and second stages separated and the second stage positioned the Dragon perfectly into orbit before total rocket separation.

But before deploying its solar arrays, and preparing to accomplish a number of thrusts and burns to start a course to the International Space Station, the Dragon capsule experienced a technical glitch that needed to be rectified before a planned linkup with the ISS.

The problem kept three of the four Dragon’s thruster packs from initializing and SpaceX mission control specialists and engineers worked feverishly to get the thrusters back online.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter that deployment of the Dragon’s solar arrays has taken place.

In an afternoon news conference, Musk said at least two of the spacecrafts’s four thruster packs needed to be active for the Dragon to reach the ISS.

Late Friday afternoon SpaceX confirmed debris in the thruster fuel lines had been cleared and all four thruster packs were now working working.

The news conference with NASA and SpaceX officials confirmed Dragon will not be docking at the ISS on Saturday, but did not rule out a linkup as early as Sunday now that the thrusters were operational.

The thrusters are used to guide the Dragon toward a rendezvous with the ISS and maneuver the spacecraft close enough to be captured by the space station’s robotic arm by astronauts and then bolted to the ISS.

Spectators on Cocoa Beach had a clear view of Friday morning’s SpaceX launch. (Image by Bobby Freeman)

Supplies include replacement electronics equipment, material to be used for a number of scientific experiments to be performed by astronauts, clean clothing for the astronauts and a resupply of food including fresh fruit and frozen yogurt.

Over the course of the Dragon’s 24-day stay at the ISS, the astronauts also will pack cargo aboard the spacecraft for the return flight back to Earth. It is expected that return flight cargo will be more than 1,200 pounds including computer equipment, completed science experiments and dirty laundry.

The established date for Dragon to undock from the ISS and return to Earth is March 25 with a splashdown and capsule recovery planned off the coast of Baja California.

Last May, the SpaceX commercial aerospace company successfully demonstrated the capability of using the Dragon to reach the ISS and followed it up with the first official resupply mission to the ISS in October.

This new mission, called CRS-2, is the second of 12 unmanned SpaceX cargo flights to the ISS underv the provisions of a $1.6 million contract between SpaceX and NASA.