Flight of SpaceX's Dragon Scrubbed Due to Engine Glitch

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The SpaceX Dragon, laden with cargo for the International Space Station, was scheduled to launch atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle at 4:55 a.m. EDT today. The launch was scrubbed at the last second, according to a story in Spaceref.

Glitch discovered in the number five engine on the first stage

The problem appears to be greater than normal pressure in the number five engine on the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. A computer caught the pressure spike and ordered an automatic shutdown of all nine engines before the Falcon 9 could lift off.

SpaceX to assess the No. 5 engine

At this point SpaceX technicians will assess the No. 5 engine to ascertain what caused the increase pressure. Replacing the engine remains an option, which involves rolling the launch vehicle back to the hanger. The process should only take a few days.

Falcon 9 needs all nine engines to work on lift off

The Christian Science Monitor reported SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated at a post scrub briefing that while all nine engines are needed to lift off, the Falcon 9 could still take the Dragon to orbit even if two engines subsequently failed in flight. That was why the computer shut down all nine engines when the pressure spike occurred in the number five engine.

Next launch window may occur on Tuesday

If SpaceX can ascertain and fix the problem with the number five engine, the next launch window will occur at 3:44 a.m. Tuesday. There is a subsequent launch opportunity on Wednesday at 3:22 a.m.

Dragon's test regime when it is launched

When Dragon is successfully launched, it will spend the second day orbiting the Earth. On the third day it will test its sensors and flight systems as it comes with 1.5 miles of the International Space Station. On the fourth day, after a determination by NASA, the Dragon will approach the ISS, be captured by a remote manipulator arm, and then be brought in to be berthed with the station. On the fifth day, the crew of the ISS will unload the cargo in the Dragon and load the space craft with cargo to be brought back to Earth. After about two weeks, the Dragon will detach from the ISS, reenter the Earth's atmosphere, and will splash land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

Falcon 9 has flown twice before

The Falcon 9 has had two successful launches. The second launch took a Dragon spacecraft into Earth orbit and then successfully returned it to a splashdown in the Pacific.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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