NASA and SpaceX Announce New Date to Launch Astronauts to the International Space Station
NASA and SpaceX announced this week that a mission to the International Space Station (ISS), originally slated for this weekend, has been rescheduled for Nov. 14.
The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, which will be sending 4 SpaceX astronauts to the ISS, was supposed to take off on Oct. 31, but the organizations pushed back to mid-November for further inspections after an issue with a previous launch.
Earlier this month, SpaceX found an issue with the rocket's engine. About two seconds before liftoff, that engine’s auto abort system activated after detecting that two engines attempted to start early.
"We call it a hard start," Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said during a press conference Wednesday. "It's not necessarily bad. It rattles the engine and could cause a little damage. But in general, you do not want that."
An investigation revealed that the problem was caused by a tiny amount of red lacquer —which is a "masking agent" used to protect the engines from erosion — blocking a relief valve. But on the Oct. 2 launch, a bit of the lacquer covered up tiny relief holes. Although the holes only measure about 1/16 of an inch wide, it was enough to trigger the auto abort.
“No question rocketry is tough and requires a lot of attention to detail,” Koenigsmann said. “Rockets are humbling me every day I work with them. You have to be super diligent and on your toes to get this right.”
Using data from the aborted launch, SpaceX determined that two of the engines scheduled to launch Oct. 31 had similar issues. So, in order to change out the engines and verify safety, the launch was pushed back two weeks. SpaceX is in the process of swapping out the engines, which will take a few days.
The Nov. 14 launch will be the first crew rotation mission of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. Astronauts will switch out with those who launched to the ISS in May. The mission will include NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The astronauts will join Expedition 64 crew already at the ISS.
The astronauts are currently in “soft quarantine” at home with their families. More stringent quarantine conditions will begin on Saturday, with the astronauts scheduled to travel to the Kennedy Space Station in Florida on Nov. 6.
The mission to the ISS will take approximately 8.5 hours, the shortest time possible for the journey. Were the launch to take place the following day, the journey could take as long as 27.5 hours.
The launch is scheduled for 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday, Nov. 14 and will be available to watch online.