SpaceX cargo rocket ready for another launch attempt

April 19, 2017 – 10:33 pm

Credit: SpaceXSpaceX is counting down to liftoff Saturday of a Falcon 9 rocket with a commercial cargo craft heading for the International Space Station after engineers replaced a component in an upper stage steering system that grounded the launcher Tuesday.

Launch of the 208-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for 4:47:07 a.m. EST (0947:07 GMT). The mission has just one second to blast off Saturday or else wait for another opportunity to fly Tuesday.

The tight launch windows are required for SpaceX’s Dragon supply ship to reach the International Space Station with more than 2.5 tons of supplies and experiments.

A launch attempt Tuesday was scrubbed less than 90 seconds before liftoff after SpaceX engineers detected a problem with an actuator in the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage steering system.

The actuator was one of two components that gimbals the launcher’s second stage Merlin 1D vacuum engine to steer the rocket on the correct trajectory into orbit.

A NASA official said Friday that the actuator was replaced by SpaceX, which did not provide any information on the fix implemented to clear the Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff Saturday.

SpaceX’s launch team plans to begin fueling the Falcon 9 rocket with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants about three hours before launch, followed by a series of tests, communications checks and a 10-minute computer-controlled countdown sequence leading to liftoff.

The rocket’s nine Merlin 1D first stage engines will fire in the final seconds of the countdown and build up to 1.3 million pounds of thrust. If the engines pass an automated health check, restraints will open to release the Falcon 9 rocket for liftoff.

The nine main engines, arranged in an “octaweb” pattern on the rocket’s first stage, will power the Falcon 9 on a trajectory northeast from Cape Canaveral. After a nearly three-minute firing, the first stage engines will switch off and the booster will fall away as a single-engine upper stage ignites to propel the Dragon cargo carrier into orbit on a two-day pursuit of the space station.

Moments after stage separation, the Falcon 9 booster will restart a subset of its Merlin engines for a series of three maneuvers to guide the rocket back to Earth.


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