NASA: Falcon 9 launches, SpaceX fixes capsule issue in orbit

By Greg Pallone, Jerry Hume and Mike Westfall, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Friday, March 01, 2013, 9:47 PM EST
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has successfully blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, despite problems with the Dragon capsule shortly after launch.

NASA and SpaceX had reported a problem with the Dragon capsule's thrust pods, but SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted shortly after 11:30 a.m. Friday that it managed to work through the issue and deploy the capsule's solar arrays.

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The Dragon capsule is loaded with 1,268 pounds of fresh supplies and science experiments to be delivered to the International Space Station.


Latest updates

4:08 p.m.

From the Associated Press:

SpaceX says it looks like an engine problem with its orbiting Dragon capsule has been fixed. But the vessel's arrival at the International Space Station with a load of supplies will be delayed.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk says all four sets of maneuvering thrusters should be working soon. The problem might have been caused by a stuck valve or line blockage.
But the delay means that the unmanned Dragon won't get to the space station on Saturday.

2:20 p.m.

SpaceX says the Dragon capsule rendezvous with the International Space Station will now not happen until at least Sunday morning. The capsule was supposed to meet up with the ISS on Saturday.

12:05 p.m.

Statement from SpaceX: "Falcon 9 lifted off as planned and experienced a nominal flight. After Dragon achieved orbit, the spacecraft experienced an issue with a propellant valve. One thruster pod is running. We are trying to bring up the remaining three. We did go ahead and get the solar arrays deployed. Once we get at least two pods running, we will begin a series of burns to get to station."

11:49 a.m.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) tweets: "Solar array deployment successful."

11:38 a.m.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) tweets: "Thruster pod 3 tank pressure trending positive. Preparing to deploy solar arrays."

11:18 a.m.

Statement from SpaceX: "One thruster pod is running. Two are preferred to take the next step which is to deploy the solar arrays. We are working to bring up the other two in order to plan the next series of burns to get to station."

11:17 a.m.

NASA has changed the status of its news conference to "pending."

11:10 a.m.

NASA news conference has not started.

11:04 a.m.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) tweets: "Holding on solar array deployment until at least two thruster pods are active."

10:46 a.m.

NASA says it will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, reporting an issue with the Dragon capsule.

10:40 a.m.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (@elonmusk) tweets: "Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override."

10:10 a.m.

Liftoff! Falcon 9 launches on time.


About the mission

This is the third time SpaceX has sent one of its capsules to the space station following an initial demonstration flight to the orbiting outpost in May 2012, followed by the first resupply mission in October.

Besides food and necessities for astronauts, SpaceX's Dragon Capsule is also carrying some science experiments, including one that looks at how plants grow in different environments.

"Plants growing in space are under this stress of low oxygen," Dr. Simon Gilroy, a botany professor at the University of Wisconsin, told NASA. "So, we're interested in [finding out]: Can we understand how that works and how we can get around that?"

Gilroy said that project will be key to understanding how to sustain life and grow food if we ever decide to live in space.

Their experiment on board the Dragon Capsule is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on Saturday. Astronauts Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn are scheduled use the station's robot arm to grapple the Dragon.

Following its visit to the orbiting outpost, Dragon will then head back to Earth, set to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Monday, March 25, off the coast of Baja California.

SpaceX manufactured both the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule at its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., in Los Angeles County. The 157-foot-tall pair arrived at Cape Canaveral by truck.

SpaceX's Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA promises a total of 12 flights to the International Space Station.