NASA and SpaceX now are targeting Saturday, Nov. 14, for the launch of the agency’s Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station. Managers of the Crew-1 mission held a media briefing on Oct. 28, to discuss the upcoming launch, including results from recent testing of the Falcon 9 Merlin engines following unexpected data SpaceX noted during a recent non-NASA launch.
“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with SpaceX to work through this engine anomaly,” said Steve Stich, Commercial Crew Program manager. “We have a little bit more work to do, but we see a pretty good path to get to flight.”
The unexpected data resulted in an auto-abort during engine ignition caused by early start behavior on two engines. The SpaceX team inspected the engines on the launch pad, but did not find any signs of misconfigurations, so the two engines were removed and sent to the company’s facility in McGregor, Texas, for additional testing.
Once in Texas, the team replicated the same early start behavior on the test stand. After additional inspections, the team found blockage in a passage leading to a relief valve on the gas generator caused by a masking lacquer residue that had hardened during the engine build process. Once the blockage was removed, the gas generator performance was restored to normal behavior during subsequent testing.
The team then analyzed data signatures across the Merlin fleet and found similar early start data results on two engines for the Crew-1 booster, which are being replaced.
“It was a really great find; it allowed us to fix something that is very subtle but can have some negative impact on the engine operation,” said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX vice president of build and flight reliability. “We continue to make progress on the Dragon spacecraft. The team is processing ahead of the Nov. 14 launch attempt and everything is going well there.”
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on the first crew rotation mission to the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Liftoff is scheduled for 7:49 p.m. EST on Nov. 14 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“Sitting in this seat, I’m able to look at the phenomenal progress the team has been making as we’re moving toward our first full increment launch and crew capability for the International Space Station,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. “It’s a really exciting timeframe for the agency, really exciting timeframe for our partners.”