SpaceX fixes flaw in Falcon 9 rocket engines ahead of November NASA astronaut launch

NASA said it is confident that the problem has been fixed, but that there are still several data reviews to come before the launch. The agency said it would authorize SpaceX to fly the mission only if officials were confident the rocket is safe.

“I think we see a pretty good path to get to flight, and we’ll fly when we’re ready,” Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, told reporters in a news conference. “We’re certainly taking the time, and the SpaceX team is committed to flying when we’re ready as well.”

The mission for the Space Force was aborted just two seconds before launch after sensors detected an over pressurization inside a couple of engine nozzles.

SpaceX crews could find nothing wrong with the engines on the pad, so they took them to a testing facility in Texas, where they discovered that two tiny valve lines were clogged with a lacquer-like substance used to prevent corrosion, said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability.

The problem forced the engines to start prematurely, but the rocket’s computers detected the problem and forced the shutdown autonomously. SpaceX had to delay a couple of other launches recently because of mechanical issues, and Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, said on Twitter he was going to Cape Canaveral to conduct a “broad review” of operations there.

“No question, rocketry is tough and requires a lot of attention to detail,” Koenigsmann said. “Rockets are humbling. Every day I work with them, it’s always a challenge and it’s always difficult. And you have to be super diligent and on your toes to get this right.”

If the rocket had fired, he said, it would have been what’s called a “hard start,” which he said is “not necessarily bad. In most cases, it rattles the engine and it may cause a little bit of damage on the engines. In extreme cases, it may cause more damage to the engines. In general, you do not want that. You want a good start-up.”

He said that the rocket was safe “the whole time” because it was “held down on the ground” while the rocket’s computers shut down the operation before it could launch.

SpaceX’s rockets will only fly, he said, “when we know the engines are running and running well.”

The mission on Nov. 14 would be the second time SpaceX has flown humans. The first launch, in May, was a test flight that propelled two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, for a two-month stay on the space station. That flight was deemed a success, allowing SpaceX to proceed with a flight of a full contingent of four — NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Since the test flight, though, SpaceX has said it noticed a bit more erosion on the heat shield in a couple of isolated areas. Speaking in September, Koenigsmann said there “was nothing to be

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SpaceX starship passes static fire test with three raptor engines, finally gets nose cone

SpaceX starship passes static fire test with three raptor engines, finally gets nose cone
Credit: @BocaChicaGal

It’s beginning to look like SpaceX will attempt to make the 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) hop test before Christmas. After two successful 150-meter (~500 foot) hops with the SN5 and SN6 prototypes, engineers at SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facility in South Texas rolled out the SN8—the first Starship prototype to have three Raptor engines. But before the SN8 can conduct a high-altitude test flight, the engineers needed to run a static fire test.

This test is crucial to ensuring that the Starship’s interior plumbing can handle its cryogenic propellants, and is the last milestone before the Starship can conduct a high-altitude flight. On the evening of Tuesday, October 20, that’s exactly what they did. At 3:13 AM local time (01:13 AM PDT; 04:13 AM EDT), the SN8 fired up its three Raptor engines and kept firing them for several seconds straight.

Although SpaceX has not yet released a statement about the test, footage captured near the launch facility by NASA Spaceflight’s Mary McConnaughey (AKA @BocaChicaGal) would suggest that it was a success. The video of the event shows the engine being ignited at 2h, 27m 12s after several minutes of venting and remaining lit for several seconds.

With this milestone achieved, the company appears ready to conduct the historic 15-kilometer (9.3=mile) hop test. At this point, that seems likely to happen before the end of October or in early November. While the SN8 was receiving its three Raptor engines and preparing to test fire them, another team was busy assembling the nose cone in another part of the facility.

Not since the Starhopper test vehicle was in active service has a Starship prototype come with a nose cone. However, this segment was removed shortly after the Starhopper blew over in high winds in January of 2019. What remained, the single-engine lower section, went on to conduct a tethered hop test, followed by a first free-flight hop test to 20 meters (~65 foot).

In August of 2019, these tests culminated in a 150-meter (~500-foot) hop test, a feat that would not be accomplished again until a year later with the SN5 and SN7 prototype. Since then, the development of the SN8 has proceeded apace, which began with the core undergoing a series of proof tests (from Oct. 6 to Oct. 8) to validate its stainless steel propellant tanks in preparation for its static fire test.

What followed was the addition of the large maneuvering flaps to the core section and nose cone. The nose cone was then attached by crane to the SN8 fuselage on Thursday (Oct. 22), an event that was witnessed by multiple observers who took pictures and footage.

With the nose cone and flaps installed, the vehicle now looks like the finalized Starship design for the first time. With its three engines, nose cone and maneuvering flaps integrated, the SN8 is about ready to attempt its 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) hop test, which will include a “belly-flop” maneuver that will test its ability to glide back to its landing site

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