Once more, the eagerly awaited launch of Space X’s 22-story Falcon 9 rocket was thwarted by another technical abnormality, this time entailing engine problems; the occasion marks the second time this week that the mission has been aborted.
Monday’s Failed Launch
A series of launch attempts were originally made on Monday Nov. 25. Alas, the ground control team’s desperate efforts to send the rocket into space, within the allocated 65-minute time period, resulted in failure. The final launch attempt was prematurely terminated, reportedly due to unexpected pressure readings associated with the “first-stage liquid oxygen system.”
Although the countdown had been resumed, company engineers were unable to finish interpreting readings from the technical glitch and, therefore, elected to halt the proceedings.
SpaceX’s Thanksgiving at Cape Canaveral
Returning to the United States Air Force base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, SpaceX prepared for their Thanksgiving launch, subsequent to thorough examination of the rocket’s engines. Unfortunately, on two successive occasions, the illustrious space transport company was unable to deploy the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket and its payload into space.
The first attempt was made after engine ignition at 17:39 p.m., but to no avail. A second attempt was then made at 18:33 p.m., but was also scrubbed. Had SpaceX succeeded in its launch ambitions, it would have been the first Thanksgiving Day launch from Cape Canaveral since 1959.
According to Spaceflight Now, the Falcon 9 rocket’s engines were too slow building up thrust, as recorded by the company’s computer systems. The rocket had managed to successfully pressurize its propellant tanks, before switching to internal power – a task that was unfulfilled during Monday’s failed launch. The nine Merlin 1D tanks were also ignited, with the detected fault triggering the rocket’s engines to shutdown.
The incident prompted the company’s CEO and founder, Elon Musk, to take to Twitter and explain the reason for the postponed launch, after the live webcast went dark:
“Launch aborted by autosequence due to slower than expected thrust ramp.”
After this first failed launch, the countdown was reset, as engineers started hurriedly investigating the source of the underlying problem, before the 65-minute launch window closed. Unfortunately, the second countdown was interrupted by one of SpaceX’s engineers, with less than a minute to spare before liftoff.
According to CBS News, the launch director then broadcast an announcement, stipulating the reason for terminating the Thanksgiving Day launch:
“We have scrubbed for the day. We’ll continue through the abort safing and go into de-tank and site securing. We did call a hold at approximately T-minus 60 seconds. Essentially, we just ran out of time to complete data review from the first engine start.”
The next available launch day was said to be Friday, but Musk announced that, in the event of two failed launch attempts, the company would lower the rocket to horizontal and the tanks drained, ready for detailed inspection.
SES World Skies’ Satellite
Many believe that SpaceX’s economical launch costs could herald a revolution in the spaceflight services industry, outcompeting the likes of International Launch Services and Arianespace, consortiums that market the Proton and Ariane 5 rockets, respectively.
Atop the Falcon 9 rocket, nestled in its protective nose cone, lies a 3-ton commercial television broadcasting satellite, constructed by Orbital Sciences Corp. and owned by Luxembourg-based company SES World Skies.
SES has a fleet of more than 50 communications stations, the second highest fleet size operated by any single company in the world. The company has agreed to permit SpaceX to deliver their $100 million satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, citing cost as one of the chief factors. The satellite is set to provide high-definition broadcasts to homes throughout China, India and Thailand.
It is hoped that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will, ultimately, help deliver the satellite 23,000 miles above the equator, positioning it in geostationary orbit. Geostationary orbit represents the point at which a satellite demonstrates an orbital period equal to the Earth’s rotational period. Resultantly, from the ground, the satellite appears to remain within a fixed position over the Earth and satellite dishes on the ground can remain stationary.
It is also worth noting that SpaceX also has formed a $1.6 billion contract with NASA and has been tasked with performing 12 cargo missions to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), following retirement of the space shuttle. The company has successfully completed two trips, with a third slated for Feb. 22, 2014.
SpaceX’s thanksgiving day launch may have been transiently thwarted by engine troubles, but the company is likely to embark upon another launch in the coming days. It is hoped, by this time, Musk and company will get to the bottom of the technical problems responsible for plaguing recent launch endeavors.
By James Fenner