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The competition heats up: SpaceX has revised the schedule for its next three launches, pushing back two weeks so engineers can review issues with the Falcon 9 upper stage engine.
The debut launch of the upgraded Falcon 9 successfully deployed Canada’s Cassiope spacecraft into orbit on September 29. However, after safely deploying its payloads, the upper stage was then set to restart its Merlin VacD engine for a second burn related to SpaceX’s ambitions to create a fully reusable launch system. An anomaly with the restart held no mission impact, but the company’s CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, did note they expected to implement corrective actions ahead of the next launch. “In the case of the upper stage relight, we initiated relight and the system encountered an anomaly and did not complete the relight. We believe understand what that issue is and should have it addressed in time for the next flight of Falcon 9,” he noted. “We essentially saw the engine initiate ignition. get up to about 400 psi and then it encountered a condition that it didn’t like. We have all of the data from the restart, so I am confident that we will be able to sort it out and address it before the next flight. We just have to iron out some slight differences of it operating in vacuum.”
I find Musk’s vague terminology about the engine issue to be interesting. I wonder if the “condition” the engine “didn’t like” was when the engine exploded, as some have suggested. (I personally am skeptical the engine exploded, however, as such a failure would probably require a much longer delay to deal with.)
Either way, the next few months should be a busy time for commercial space. Not only does SpaceX have two major commercial launches and a Dragon mission to ISS, Orbital Sciences has its next Cygnus cargo mission and Virgin Galactic claims it will be ready to fly SpaceShipTwo with passengers.
Posted on the road heading into the empty wilds of west Texas.