SpaceX operational astronaut “Nail polish” back on track after delay

At a new NASA conference, Hans Koenigsman, vice president of spaceX development and aviation reliability, was able to explain in great detail why the recent Second Second Falcon 9 missile happened and how the company’s first operational astronaut delayed the launch.

It is now scheduled to launch EST (00:49 UTC) on Saturday, November 14 at 7:49 pm, with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Crew – 1 mission originally expected to launch on September 23, October 23 and October 31. However, on October 2, a new Falcon 9 booster – the sibling of the Crew-1’s own new booster – automatically stopped its GPS III SV04 satellite launch attempt two seconds before liftoff. CEO Elon Musk was soon charged with a rare last-second abortion over an “unexpected pressure surge in a turbomachine gas generator.”

At Hawthorn, a factory in California, SpaceX, the wrong GPS III SV04 may have been built side by side with the Falcon 9 Booster B1062, and the Crew-1 Falcon 9 Booster B1061 was immediately examined to find any commonalities once the cause of the abortion was well understood.

SpaceX COO and President Quinn Shotwell stand in front of the Falcon 9 booster, which will soon take four astronauts to ISS. (TIME / SpaceX)

A week before the latest conference, Kathy Leuders, NASA’s human space program manager and former business group project manager, said in a statement on Twitter that SpaceX was still investigating the cause of the abortion, but that at least one crew-1 booster engine needed to be replaced, as well as a machine on the Falcon 9 booster P1063.

Crew-1 Falcon 9 Booster B1061 arrived in Florida on July 14th. (SpaceX)
The Falcon 9 booster B1063 was spotted in August on its way west from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to Macrigor, Texas. (D. Stamos)

Now, during NASA’s October 28th Crew-1 conference, SpaceX’s Koenigsman revealed that they have finally decided to replace not one but two of the Crew-1 Booster P1061’s nine Merlin 1D engines. Thanks to Falcon 9’s nine engine booster design and SpaceX’s prosperous rocket factory, the process was completed extraordinarily quickly, turning already qualified Merlin 1D engines out of a large pool. Based on Konixman’s design, SpaceX has already installed two replacement engines in the Crew-1 booster.

However, the release of GPS III SV04 was halted, and how did it affect Crew-1?

Rocket Engine vs. Nail Polish

According to Koenigsman, during the rapid and complex mechanical and electric ballet before the first stage ignition of the Falcon 9, the rocket’s autonomous flight system GPS III SV04 booster was found to be running two tables ahead of the nine Merlin 1D engines, so to speak. The system immediately stopped the ignition process to avoid a “difficult” (i.e. stressful or damaging) start. SpaceX quickly began exploring the rocket within 24 hours, but found nothing physical or electrical in the Falcon 9’s Merlin 1D engines and engine compartment.

A Merlin 1D machine is being tested and tested in McGregor, Texas. (SpaceX)

With numerous warnings, SpaceX removed both misbehaving engines and sent them to its macrocore, Texas development and testing facilities – somewhat miraculously there – reflecting the same early start behavior on the test stand. After increasingly granular inspections, SpaceX finally lowered one of the engine’s gas generator relief valves to a small plumbing line for feeding. In the random subset of the relatively new Merlin 1D engines, the relief valve line provided by a supplier at the end of SpaceX is sometimes compared to “red nail polish” by a protective varnish coinsman.

Merlin 1D is manufactured at SpaceX’s Hawthorn plant. The small cylinder tube on the side is the gas generator of the engine. (SpaceX)

Used to avoid selecting parts of the engine pipe during the surface finishing process known as anodizing, the lacquer machine parts failed in a random selection or were accidentally sealed by over-cleaning. In the end, however, the small batteries were enough to keep the vulnerable Merlin 1D engines constantly igniting for a fraction of a second.

Importantly, when SpaceX discovered the possible cause and cleaned up the blocked plumbing, each of the previously affected Merlin 1D engines functioned perfectly, all of which directly confirmed both the cause and treatment of the Falcon 9’s October 2 shutdown.

The engine compartment and heat shield of a Falcon 9 Block 5 booster. (SpaceX / Discovery)

Astronauts enter into isolation

NASA Commercial Crew Project Manager Steve Stitch, SpaceX’s Crew-1 Mission astronauts – Shannon Walker, Victor Clover and Mike Hopkins and Jackson (Japanese) astronaut Sochi Isolated procedures.

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Clover and Mike Hopkins, and Jaxa (Japanese) astronaut Sochi Nokuchi are almost ready to fly in Crew-1. (SpaceX)
The crew-1 will follow in the new footsteps of NASA astronauts Bob Behanken and Doug Hurley’s flawless demo-2 crew dragon launch and landing launch. (NASA / Bill Ingols)

Stitch also provided a more specific Crew-1 schedule, starting with a full dry clothing rehearsal on November 10 before the first launch attempt at the integrated Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon standard fire test net on November 9 and November 14. Thanks to random orbital dynamics, a successful launch on November 14 will be eight hours after the crew dragon lifts its orbit and lifts off with the International Space Station – three times faster than the typical 27.5-hour transit.

Stay tuned for updates as the task release date approaches.

Phil Schwartz

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