WASHINGTON — A Falcon 9 first stage did not land after a launch final month as a result of one in all its engines shut down throughout flight after sizzling gasoline breached a worn-out cowl.
Throughout a NASA press convention March 1 concerning the upcoming Crew-2 industrial crew flight, Benji Reed, senior director for human spaceflight packages at SpaceX, mentioned that whereas the booster used on that Feb. 15 launch was making its sixth flight, some parts on it have been “life leaders” that had flown extra typically than another within the Falcon 9 fleet.
That included “boots,” or covers round elements of the Merlin engines within the first stage. “This was the best rely variety of flights that this specific boot design had seen,” he mentioned.
Nonetheless, a type of boots had a “little little bit of a gap” that allowed sizzling gasoline to get into elements of the engine throughout flight, he mentioned. “A bit little bit of sizzling gasoline acquired to the place it’s not imagined to be, and it brought on that engine to close down,” he mentioned.
Reed didn’t point out at what level within the launch the engine shut down, however he steered it came about throughout ascent. “A beauty of Falcon 9 is that we now have engine-out functionality,” he mentioned, which means that one of many first stage’s 9 engines can shut down with out jeopardizing the mission. “The automobile acquired to orbit and put the satellites precisely the place they need to be. The first mission was achieved.”
The shutdown of the engine, although, stored the primary stage from touchdown. “When that booster got here to return dwelling, due to the issue with that exact engine, we didn’t have sufficient thrust to get again to the place we would have liked to be, and didn’t land the place we needed to be,” he mentioned.
Reed’s feedback supplied probably the most particulars thus far on why the booster did not land, breaking a streak of two dozen consecutive landings relationship again practically a 12 months. Hans Koenigsmann, a longtime SpaceX government who’s at the moment a senior adviser for construct and flight reliability on the firm, mentioned Feb. 23 that “heat damage” was to blame, however didn’t go into extra particulars.
The Falcon 9 has not launched since that Feb. 15 mission, though the corporate tried a launch Feb. 28 of one other set of Starlink satellites. The launch was scrubbed 84 seconds earlier than the scheduled 8:37 p.m. Japanese liftoff, and the corporate has not set a brand new date for the launch or supplied extra details about the reason for the scrub.
Throughout the webcast of that launch try, the SpaceX hosts didn’t talk about the failed touchdown. Nonetheless, they famous that there could be no video from the primary stage on that launch, a break with the corporate’s commonplace practices.
Reed mentioned the engine drawback was “an excellent lesson that we realized” as the corporate works to raised perceive the lifetime of Falcon 9 boosters and which parts are most prone to put on and tear. The corporate can be working to improve management techniques on the automobile “to even additional detect and management what the automobile must do” in circumstances like that.
NASA has been following the investigation to grasp if there are any issues that will pose issues of safety to the Falcon 9 that may launch the Crew-2 mission, at the moment scheduled for no sooner than April 20. “We are going to comply with together with SpaceX’s investigation,” Steve Stich, supervisor of NASA’s industrial crew program, mentioned on the briefing, together with ensuring they perceive the issue earlier than giving approval to launch the mission.
A giant distinction between the Starlink missions and Crew-2 is the variety of flights. “We’re about to embark on our first reuse right here for a crewed automobile,” he mentioned. The Falcon 9 booster that may launch Crew-2 beforehand launched the Crew-1 mission in November 2020, however with no flights in between. “SpaceX Starlink flights are fairly far on the market” by way of variety of reuses of the boosters, he famous.
The astronauts who will fly on Crew-2 have additionally been holding observe of this and doubtlessly different Falcon 9 points. “We’ve been briefed about each month on the updates of our spacecraft in addition to the rocket, so we’re very assured that they’re going to determine what’s going fallacious.” mentioned Shane Kimbrough, the NASA astronaut who will command Crew-2. “It’s simply been just a few little issues on just a few of those rockets.” He didn’t elaborate on what these “few little issues” are.