Science

SpaceX launches fresh supplies to ISS

PTI Cape Canaveral (Florida) | Updated on November 25, 2017

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo: NASA TV

Flight Engineers Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson (partially obscured) install a new circuit board inside a spare multiplexer-demultiplexer aboard the International Space Station. Photo: NASA TV

The SpaceX company returned to orbit on Friday, launching fresh supplies to the International Space Station after more than a month’s delay.

The Dragon cargo ship will reach the orbiting lab on Sunday Easter morning. That pushes urgent spacewalking repairs to Wednesday; NASA wants a bad computer replaced before something else breaks.

This was the second launch attempt this week for SpaceX.

NASA’s commercial supplier had a leaky rocket valve on Monday.

The valve was replaced, and the company aimed for a liftoff yesterday despite a bad forecast. Storms cleared out of Cape Canaveral just in time for the afternoon launch.

The unmanned cargo ship contains 2½ tonnes of station supplies, including material originally intended for the spacewalking repairs.

A critical backup computer failed outside the space station last Friday. The primary computer is working fine, but numerous systems would be seriously compromised if it broke, too. A double failure also would hinder visits by the Dragon and other vessels.

“It’s imperative that we maintain” backups for these external command-routing computer boxes, flight director Brian Smith said yesterday. “Right now, we don’t have that.” NASA decided late this week to use the gasket-like material already on board the space station for the repair, instead of waiting for the Dragon. Astronauts trimmed the thermal material yesterday to fit the bottom of the replacement computer, and inserted a fresh circuit card.

Much-needed food is also aboard the Dragon, along with a new spacesuit and spacesuit replacement parts. NASA wants all these things at the space station as soon as possible.

The shipment is close to five weeks late. Initially set for mid-March, the launch was delayed by extra preparation, then damage to an Air Force radar and, finally on Monday, the rocket leak.

Earlier, as the countdown entered its final few hours, NASA’s space station program manager Mike Suffredini said an investigation continues into the reason for last year’s spacesuit failure. The helmet worn by an Italian astronaut filled with water from the suit’s cooling system, and he nearly drowned during a spacewalk.

Routine US spacewalks are on hold until engineers are certain what caused the water leak. The upcoming spacewalk by the two Americans on board is considered an exception because of its urgent nature.

NASA is paying the California-based SpaceX Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Virginia’s Orbital Sciences Corp. to keep the orbiting lab well stocked after the end of its space shuttle programme. Russia, Japan and Europe also make periodic deliveries.

Published on April 19, 2014

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