Tuesday, December 07, 2010

SpaceX working to repair damaged engine nozzle

SpaceX says its first NASA demonstration mission could still fly Wednesday following repairs to a cracked upper stage Falcon 9 engine nozzle.

A decision on the timing of the launch is expected around 4 or 5 p.m. today.

"Tomorrow is still possible," company spokeswoman Kirstin Brost said of a launch attempt from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

With the 157-foot rocket vertical at Launch Complex 40, SpaceX workers are braving icy temperatures to cut away a four-foot section of the nozzle where two small cracks were found Monday during reviews of vehicle closeout photos.

SpaceX says the cracks are on a nozzle extension that improves the efficiency of its upper stage Merlin vacuum engine but is not needed to execute the upcoming test flight. The rocket's nine first-stage engines do not use the nozzle extension.

Once the damaged area is removed, systems must be tested before committing to a launch date.

A Wednesday launch would be targeted for 9:03 a.m., with the window extending to 12:22 p.m. There's an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions, with a possibility that thick clouds could form over the launch site.

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