Monday, December 06, 2010

SpaceX evaluating engine nozzle cracks

SpaceX is evaluating two small cracks in a Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage engine nozzle, but a launch Wednesday after repairs is still possible, the company said this evening.

The company said the cracks were in a thin area -- twice the thickness of a soda can -- at the end of the 9-foot long Merlin vacuum engine nozzle that experiences little stress, is a relatively simple part of the engine and would not cause a flight failure.

The nozzle extension, made of niobium sheet alloy, provides a level of efficiency in vacuum that is not needed for the upcoming demonstration flight. It is most helpful for launching heavy satellites or launching payloads to more a distant destination, the company said.

Though not expected to create a flight risk, the cracks are being studied to make sure they don't represent a more serious problem.

"The most likely path forward is that we will trim off the thinnest portion of the nozzle extension, which is where the cracks are located, perform a thorough systems check and resume launch preparation," a SpaceX statement said.

A decision on whether to launch Wednesday launch is expected by Tuesday evening.

Click here to read the mission press kit distributed by SpaceX.

IMAGE: The upper stage Merlin engine firing during the maiden voyage of the Falcon 9. Credit: SpaceX.


Conor said...

I haven't studied the Falcon 9 design in detail, but I'm surprised and impressed that it's possible to work on or even see a nine foot upper-stage engine nozzle on a stacked launch vehicle.

Anonymous said...

They have an inspection hole in the lower end of the interstage designed in for probably just these kinds of things. Atlas and Delta might have a similar thing.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I love this!! NASA builds a mobile launch tower for hundreds of millions of dollars before they even have a rocket to use it, then they cancel the rocket. Meanwhile, SpaceX rents a crane and bucket. Go SpaceX!!!

Anonymous said...

Crane, Bucket, and a bail out if they need it.