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SpaceX Taking No Risks with Engine Cracks in Dragon Test Flight

By | December 8, 2010

      [Satellite TODAY Insider 12-08-10] SpaceX will attempt to launch its Dragon space capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket by Dec. 9 after two small cracks detected on the rocket’s second stage engine nozzle extension delayed the unmanned commercial test launch, the company announced Dec. 7.
          SpaceX said its engineers are investigating the cracks, which are located near the end of the nozzle extension. While the company reports that the location of the cracks would prevent them from causing a flight failure, SpaceX is not taking any chances on the mission and is conducting further investigation to ensure that it is not a more serious problem.
      “It looks like the first attempt for this flight is no earlier than Thursday. On Monday, indications in the weld joint were such that we wanted to take additional steps to look at it. If the nozzle needs to be replaced, the launch could be postponed until Friday,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.
          The operation involves risky maneuvers, SpaceX CEO and CTO Elon Musk said in a statement posted on the company’s Web site. The Dragon spacecraft, designed with seats for a seven-member crew and a cargo hold, will reach orbit and then re-enter the atmosphere and parachute into the Pacific Ocean in the span of five hours. “The Dragon will control its re-entry with onboard Draco thrusters, which enable the spacecraft to touchdown at a very precise location — ultimately within a few hundred yards of its target,” Musk said.
          If successful, the capsule could be selected to be the first private commercial vehicle to transport supplies and personnel to the International Space Station (ISS). The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued a license in November to SpaceX to re-enter Earth’s orbit in November.
          Dragon’s next scheduled mission is a fly-by of the ISS, where the Dragon will come within six miles of the orbiting station. The first manned Dragon mission to the ISS is scheduled to take place in 2011.

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