SpaceX has delayed the scheduled launch of the third commercial flight of its unmanned Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch, which was originally scheduled for Sunday, March 16 at 4:41 AM EDT from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, would have been the first mission of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle with its landing legs.
In a statement, SpaceX says its is, “now targeting March 30 for the CRS-3 launch, with April 2 as a back-up. Falcon 9 and Dragon are in good health; the team is taking additional time to resolve open items and ensure SpaceX does everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch.”
Though SpaceX gave no reason for the postponement, a report on Spaceflight Now laid the blame on contamination in the unpressurized cargo section of the spacecraft. Citing sources, the report said there was a fear that the contaminant (possibly oil) in the section would boil or “outgas” in the vacuum of space and coat the optics of experiments, such as the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) and four high-definition Earth viewing (HDEV) cameras, that form part of the 4,600 lb (2,086 kg) payload.
Because cleaning the cargo bay means unpacking the spacecraft, the launch has been pushed back to at least March 30 to make room for the March 25 launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the station.
The launch of CRS-3 will mark the first time that the Falcon 9 booster has carried landing legs on an operational mission. Spanning about 60 ft (18 m) when deployed and made of carbon fiber and an aluminum honeycomb, the legs will only be dead weight on CRS-3, but when the technology is more advanced, the Falcon 9 first stage will be able to make a controlled, powered landing on its legs instead of splashing down at sea after sending the Dragon into space.
The CRS-3 mission is expected to include a four-week visit to the ISS and is the third of at least 12 missions to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. The cargo carried aboard Dragon include materials for 150 experiments as well as, for the first time, four powered cargo payloads in the pressurized capsule section. At the end of the mission, the reusable Dragon will carry 3,600 lb (1,632 kg) of crew supplies, hardware and computer resources, science experiments, biotechnology, and space station hardware back to Earth.