Saturday, September 10, 2011

SpaceX Discloses Test Flight Engine Anomaly

The Falcon 9 launches on December 8, 2010 with the Dragon capsule. Photo source: NASA.

Space News reports that SpaceX disclosed to NASA on September 9 an engine anomaly that occurred during last December's Falcon 9 test flight.

“I’d call it an oxidizer-rich shutdown,” former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, SpaceX’s vice president of astronaut safety and mission assurance, told Space News in a Sept. 9 interview. “So because of that, when you get that mixture change happening, the temperatures can go up higher than you want inside the gas generator.”

Bowersox added that “those temperatures could have damaged the turbines in the turbopump.” That presents an obstacle for SpaceX, which eventually intends to reuse the nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9.

The disclosure came at a joint meeting of the ISS Advisory Committee and the NASA Safety Advisory Panel. Committee member Charles Daniel commented:

“There was no explanation or root cause analysis or corrective action for this particular anomaly,” Daniel said Sept. 9 during the public meeting. “This is a relatively troublesome statement not to recognize that a premature engine shutdown was a significant event.”

UPDATE September 14, 2011Florida Today reports that Daniel's comments were largely out of ignorance, as NASA was well aware of the engine anomaly but Daniel was not involved in NASA's internal post-flight review process.

A NASA commercial cargo official told Florida Today, "NASA and SpaceX were weeks away from a formal review that would close out concerns from the previous flight in preparation for the next one, and Daniel may not have been aware of ongoing internal discussions about corrective actions."

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