SpaceX Successfully Docks with Station Following Thruster problems

by Lon Seidman | Mar 1, 2013 4:01pm
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NASA/Tony Gray and Robert Murray

A SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Lifts Off from the Kennedy Space Center, March 1, 2013

UPDATED - 11:15 p.m. March 3, 2013 - SpaceX successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday morning after a clogged valve nearly disabled their Dragon spacecraft shortly after launch March 1.

“SpaceX is proud to execute this important work for NASA, and we’re thrilled to bring this capability back to the United States,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX. “Today’s launch continues SpaceX’s long-term partnership with NASA to provide reliable, safe transport of cargo to and from the station, enabling beneficial research and advancements in technology and research.”

Dragon is delivering more than 2,300 pounds of cargo to the station that will be unloaded and stowed over the next three weeks. Astronauts aboard the station will load over 3,000 pounds of return cargo during Dragon’s visit. Dragon will depart the station and splash down in the Pacific Ocean on March 25.

The SpaceX rocket lifted off at 10:10 a.m. eastern time March 1, with no apparent issues during the launch process. After the spacecraft achieved its orbit, however, three of Dragon’s four thrusters failed to come online, delaying the deployment of the spacecraft’s solar panels. Dragon operated on its batteries until commands from the ground forced the panels open. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk attributed the thruster problem to a blocked valve aboard the unmanned space capsule that was cleared by a remotely executed pressure hammering. NASA required at least two of Dragon’s four thrusters to be active in order to proceed with its berthing to the ISS. William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, expressed praise for how SpaceX handled troubleshooting and addressing the anomalies.

“Extremely professional and well handled,” Gerstenmaier said.

Watch our tour of the SpaceX launchpad:

An engine failure on the last SpaceX mission in October resulted in the loss of a communication satellite in the rocket’s first stage but still delivered Dragon to orbit. A pressure failure was blamed for that anomaly.


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