CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - A commercial craft carrying a ton of supplies for the International Space Station ran into thruster trouble shortly after liftoff Friday, and flight controllers scrambled to fix the problem.
The company said in a statement that a fuel valve was at fault, and that two sets of thrusters were needed before the Dragon could begin the maneuvers needed to get to the space station.
But more than four hours after the launch, there was no word on whether any more thrusters were working. And as the afternoon wore on, Saturday’s planned rendezvous with the space station became less likely. SpaceX and NASA hastily called a news conference for mid-afternoon.
The capsule is equipped with 18 thrusters, divided into four sets, and can maneuver adequately even if they aren’t all working.
The problem cropped up following Dragon’s separation from the rocket upper stage, nine minutes into the flight. The liftoff was right on time and appeared to go flawlessly; the previous Falcon launch in October suffered a single engine failure that resulted in the loss of a communications satellite that was hitching a ride on the rocket.
This is the first major trouble to strike a Dragon in orbit. Two similar capsules, launched last year, had no problem getting to the orbiting lab.
More than 1 ton of space station supplies is aboard this Dragon, including some much-needed equipment for air purifiers.
NASA’s Mission Control informed the six-man crew that the Dragon would be passing directly beneath the space station in the afternoon, and urged them to keep a lookout.
“Maybe you can ask it to breathe a little fire as we go over top,” commander Kevin Ford jokingly told controllers in Houston.
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 deliveries to restock the space station, and hopes the venture will lead to transporting astronauts there in a few years. A company-sponsored demo mission kicked everything off last May.
Launch controllers applauded and gave high-fives to one another, once the spacecraft safely reached orbit. The successful separation of the Dragon from the rocket was broadcast live on NASA TV; on-board cameras provided the unique views nine minutes into the flight.
Then the trouble struck, and the coverage ended.
The space station was orbiting 250 miles above the Atlantic, just off the New England coast, when the Falcon soared. Astronauts are to use a hefty robot arm to draw the Dragon in and dock it to the station.View Entire Story
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