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SpaceX Dragon launches, but thrusters malfunctioning

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March 1, 2013

CRS-2 lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

CRS-2 lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

Image Gallery (12 images)

This morning (Mar. 1), the SpaceX Dragon CRS-2 mission lifted off successfully from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 10:10:13 AM EST (1010:13 GMT) only to experience a major malfunction in Dragon’s thruster pods. SpaceX reported at 10:43 AM (1543 GMT) that three of the unmanned Dragon spacecraft’s four thruster pods have failed to activate – placing Dragon’s rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in peril.

The privately built and operated CRS-2 mission was launched atop a 157-foot (47.8 m) tall, 12-foot (3.6 m) diameter SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene, the nine Merlin 1C first stage engines worked without a hitch, lifting the rocket on 855,000 pounds (388,000 kg) of thrust. At 9 minutes and 40 seconds into the flight, the Dragon spacecraft reached orbit.

At 10:24 am (1524 GMT), a problem was reported when Dragon’s solar panels did not deploy. It was subsequently learned that the deployment was deliberately delayed while flight engineers were dealing with a malfunction with three of Dragon's four attitude thruster pods, which refused to fire due to an issue with a propellant valve. As of this writing, the solar panels have been unfurled, but engineers are still working to bring at least one of the malfunctioning pods online.

Dragon capsule

According to a NASA official, at least three of the thruster pods are needed if Dragon is to reach the ISS. Currently, Dragon is in an elliptical orbit at an altitude of 124 miles (199 km) at perigee and 200 miles (323 km) at apogee with an orbital inclination is 51.66º. In order to rendezvous with the ISS, Dragon must alter its orbit to match that of the space station while arriving at the same position in space.

The Mission, CRS-2, is intended to be Dragon’s third visit to the ISS and the second commercial cargo mission to the station. Carrying 2,300 pounds (1,043 kg) of supplies, it’s scheduled to rendezvous with the ISS on Saturday (Mar. 2) where it will be brought to a docking port by a robotic arm for its three-week stay before returning to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on March 25.

Unfortunately, whether that schedule will be kept remains to be seen.

The video below shows the CRS-2 roll out and movement to vertical.

Source: SpaceX

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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