SpaceX‘s rocket failure engine on March 18th could impact the astronaut launch debut, NASA has claimed yesterday, March 24th. Still, the company has managed to launch the Starlink satellites in spite of the landing error, which demonstrates how ambitious SpaceX actually is, with all the negativity thrown at it.
A Possible Delay of the Astronaut Launch Debut
SpaceX and NASA are at the moment getting ready to prepare a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for the astronaut launch debut, a flight dubbed Demonstration Mission 2, or Demo-2/ DM-2. The launch vehicles and the spacecraft hardware, comprising the booster B1058, an expendable upper stage, a spacecraft case, and the Crew Dragon capsule, are already at the company’s launch and processing facilities.
SpaceX is incredibly close to finishing all the work for the inaugural astronaut launch, but the recent error in landing could impact the schedule, NASA claimed.
“According to the CCtCap contracts, SpaceX is required to make available to NASA all data and resulting reports. SpaceX, with NASA’s concurrence, would need to implement any corrective actions found during the investigation related to its commercial crew work prior to its flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA and SpaceX are holding the current mid-to-late May launch timeframe, and would adjust the date based on a review of the data, if appropriate,” NASA stated.
On March 18th, about three minutes after its historic fifth launch and immediately after stage separation was set, Falcon 9 booster B1048, encountered an engine failure. As it seems, Falcon 9’s autonomous flight computer was the culprit behind the engine’s failure, shutdown, and the loss of thrust by firing the engines for a few seconds longer than planned.
The Flights Would Be Safer Now
Although the additional seconds of burn time ensured that the rocket’s upper stage was capable of making it to the correct orbit, the booster did not land, which was the first time the launch operators did not call for a burn-associated launch.
“For reference, Merlin 1D engines likely consume some ~270 kg (600 lb) of fuel each second. Falcon 9’s landing propellant reserves are believed to be on the order of 50+ metric tons (110,000 lb). Excluding the failed engine, eight Merlin 1Ds burning at full thrust for an additional 5 seconds would consume 20% of the propellant needed for landing; 10 seconds and it would use 40%,” SpaceX said.
The error was the Merlin 1D engine’s first failure during a flight ever. It is possible that B1048’s engine failure took place because the booster was the company’s most reused rocket part ever launched.
SpaceX is required to launch its Crew Dragon missions on new Falcon 9 rockets under its contract with NASA. The space agency stated that now SpaceX will have to conduct an internal failure review and implement the necessary changes before it begins its astronaut launches.
The investigation could take a few weeks, perhaps even less, but the process of fixing everything that needs repair could take a couple of months. This would make the Flacon 9 and Heavy rocket missions a lot safer, but could, in turn, delay the scheduled astronaut launch debut.