SpaceX successfully launched the latest Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. Following repairs to a a helium valve in the stage separation pneumatic system – which was responsible for Monday’s scrub, the Falcon 9 v1.1 was readied for its next attempt, with the launch of the CRS-3 Dragon from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) taking place at 19:25 UTC (15:25 local time).
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft was just over an hour away from setting sail on her CRS-3/SpX-3 mission from SLC-40 atop a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket at 20:58 UTC (16:58 local time) on Monday. With NASA TV coverage beginning, the decision to scrub for the day was part of the introduction to the webcast, that ended moments later.
SpaceX later noted that preflight checks detected that a helium valve in the stage separation pneumatic system was not holding the right pressure. This meant that the stage separation pistons would be reliant on a backup check valve.
The mission would likely have been a success via the back up system. However, per the breach in Launch Commit Criteria (LCC), the launch as called off, the vehicle detanked and repairs to replace the valve initiated once the Falcon 9 was back into its horizontal position.
Those repairs have since been completed, allowing for a new attempt to take place at the next available opportunity, which had already been set for Friday.
In addition to deploying Dragon, the mission is expected to take a major step towards SpaceX’s ambitions of developing a reusable Falcon 9; the carrier rocket will be equipped with landing gear – in the form of deployable legs at the base of the first stage – for the first time.
This mission had already been delayed several times due to issues beyond SpaceX’s control. Originally expected to occur last December, the CRS-3 mission was initially rescheduled to allow Orbital Sciences Corporation to conduct a Cygnus mission which had been scheduled for around the same time.
The knock-on delays from the Cygnus mission pushed the CRS-3 launch into March, when a combination of payload contamination and a range instrumentation failure led to further delays. The launch had been slated for the end of the month; however the same range problem which delayed last week’s Atlas V launch with NROL-67 – now in orbit and renamed USA-250 – led to another slip in SpaceX’s schedule.
The failure affects redundant control of several external components on the US side of the station, including rotation of the solar arrays. In order to avoid any problems should the primary controller fail, the solar arrays will be fixed into a suitable position to accept berthing of the Dragon as soon as the supply craft has launched.
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