SpaceX Rocket Thrusters Fixed: Dragon Capsule Will Delay Space Station Rendezvous; Watch SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 Launch Here [VIDEO]

By Staff Reporter on March 1, 2013 4:54 PM EST

SpaceX CRS-2 launched 10:10 AM ET on Friday, March 1. (Photo: SpaceX)
SpaceX CRS-2 launched 10:10 AM ET on Friday, March 1. (Photo: SpaceX)

In the last SpaceX resupply flight in October, one of the first stage booster rockets suffered a combustion champber rupture, causing an early shutdown to preserve the rocket. Other engines fired for longer to make up for the shortfaul. The Dragon cargo ship was eventually released in the intended orbit.

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On Friday, SpaceX sent the Dragon cargo ship to space via the Falcon 9 rocket at 10:10 a.m. The 157-foot tall rocket fitted with nine Merlin 1C rocket engines lifted off rom the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with 2,300 pounds of science equipment, spare parts, and crew supplies for the International Space Station. The rocket followed a trajectory that nearly directed straight into the space station's orbit. The trajectory is also running parallel to the U.S. East Coast.

All first stage rockets functioned properly and successfully fell away at three minutes after lift-off. Next, the second stage rocket was a single Merlin engine that continued the climb towards space. After a little more than ten minutes, two solar arrays were supposed to deploy from the capsule. However, trouble with the capsule thrusters have forced flight controllers to delay the solar array deployment for a full orbit -- further complicating an already challenging rendezvous task.

"It appears that although it achieved Earth orbit, Dragon is experiencing some kind of problem right now," John Insprucker, SpaceX's Falcon 9 product manager, said during a company webcast. "We'll have to learn about the nature of what happened. According to procedure, we expect a press conference to be held a few hours from now. At that time, further info may be available."

SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk also addressed the incident with a tweet, revealing that three of four maneuvering rockets were inhibited by on-board avionics. Musk also tweeted the status of the rockets in real-time to share the progress of the override process.

Eventually, the SpaceX flight controllers were able to get the second thruster pod back online. Before noon, Musk tweeted that both solar panels have been successfully deployed.

Despite the recovery, the delay will require a complex series of rendezvous rocket firings to have the Dragon capsule catch up with the space station. Flight controllers may need to re-plan the rocket firing sequence, which will affect just how long it will take before the Dragon capsule reaches the station.

Despite the missed rendezvous, the crew at SpaceX remained optimistic.

"Fortunately, we have quite a bit of flexibility in our birthing date," explained Michael Suffredini, International Space Station program manager. SpaceX claims that the Dragon capsule is capable of safe orbit for up to a month before docking. What's more, because cargo is largely scientific and not perishables for the station crew, there is no jeopardy of a delay.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to complete 12 deliviries to the space station. SpaceX hopes the venture will lead to the ambitious goal of transporting astronauts in a couple of years.

To learn more about Friday's SpaceX launch, be sure to watch the video below:

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