Falcon 9 is a reusable two-stage-to-orbit medium-lift launch rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX. It uses SpaceX Merlin engines, burning cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene as its propellants. On Wednesday, SpaceX and NASA confirmed that they would launch the Crew-1 mission on 14th November, and it will carry four astronauts to the International Space Station. But the plan had to be delayed as SpaceX engineers found an unrecognizable substance in the engines.
The launch was initially scheduled to happen on Halloween, but NASA delayed the launch after they found the engine issue on 2nd October during a launch attempt of the rocket. The Falcon 9 rocket was set to launch the latest GPS satellite for the Space Force, but it failed to take off as the engine shut down two seconds ago. Despite the failure in the attempt, the vice president of build and flight reliability for SpaceX, Hans Koenigsmann, said that “it was a good abort and the rocket did exactly what we programmed it to do.”
Addressing the Issue
On Wednesday, SpaceX revealed that two of the nine main Merlin engines stopped abruptly just two seconds before the launch. The people involved in the project are still unsure about the reason behind engine failure, but they assume that they did a Hard Start to the engine. In easy terms, the liquids and propellants were probably combined in the wrong order. This procedure is called Hard Start, which caused the hardware of the rocket to get damaged. In the teleconference, Hans also revealed that “It’s not necessarily bad, but in most cases, you know, it rattles the engine, and it may cause, you know, a little bit of damage on the engine. In extreme cases, it may cause more damage to the engine.” His claims point out that this was not really a loss but only a setback on which the team is currently working.
Checking the Damage and Real Issue
After this failed attempt, SpaceX technicians were determined to find the issue. They started by removing two engines and shipped new ones from their test site in Florida. The technicians tried to replicate the issue and found a reddish lacquer substance clogging the gas generator’s relief valve. Fortunately, the team has successfully removed the problem causing lacquer from the vent hole, resulting in the engines’ work as good as new.
The reddish lacquer they found on the engine is usually used to treat the leftover surfaces of the engine. Koenigsmann believes that the lacquer entered the engine due to SpaceX’s vendors who work on it. But the real reason has not been found yet.
Currently, SpaceX is working with its vendors and guiding them on new measures. The company is also checking the rocket’s hardware to ensure that everything is fine inside out. The company opened all of the engines and found the lacquer inside each of them. But the lacquer was mostly on the latest engines built by the company. That’s why they are now swapping the engines.
At the current stage, SpaceX does not plan to fly Crew-1 until the launch of Sentinel-6, a joint European and American satellite. It will monitor all the oceans worldwide, and it is scheduled to fly from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 10th November. The company has swapped the affected engine on the Falcon 9 rocket. Now, NASA wants to check and test the rocket again before setting its astronauts on the flight.
Meanwhile, the astronauts assigned to be the part of Crew-1 have started their quarantine process and are on rest before they can go back to the station for a strict quarantine two weeks before flying.