Science

SpaceX Repairs Damage to Falcon 9 Rocket Ahead of NASA’s Next Astronaut Launch

A Falcon 9 rocket that hit the bridge was responsible for the damage that delayed SpaceX’s next manned launch.

The Falcon 9’s first stage was damaged in transit, a SpaceX spokesman told reporters during a briefing today (August 4). The topic of the briefing was the delayed SpaceX Crew-5 mission, which is now due to carry four people to the International Space Station in late September on a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The damage to NASA’s Crew-5 launch vehicle was disclosed in mid-July, but the collision with the bridge does not appear to have been officially confirmed outside of media reports such as the NASASpaceflight report. (will open in a new tab)up to this day.

Pictured: Amazing SpaceX Crew-4 Mission Launch Photos

“The booster stage made contact with the bridge en route,” said Benjamin Reid, SpaceX’s senior director of the human spaceflight program, at a NASA briefing that was broadcast live.

As is typical for Falcon 9 launch vehicles, he said, the rocket stage was on a tractor-trailer moving between the SpaceX manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, California, and the test facility in McGregor, Texas, when the incident occurred.

“We assessed this damage. It was a fairly minor invasion, but it still caused some damage,” Reid continued. “We decided to replace the composite intermediate stage and some of the other first stage components.”

Reed added that SpaceX went through a “very thorough analysis and testing process” of this Falcon 9, and it was during this period that Crew-5 astronauts were made aware of the problem.

Crew-5 includes NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Kassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

“We had some very candid conversations with them,” Mann told reporters today at a separate live NASA briefing that included four crew members. SpaceX management often talked to the crew about “modifications and issues” related to the collision, she said.

“Of course, everyone agrees that hardware must be reliable and secure,” continued Mann. “We have every confidence that NASA, SpaceX and international partners are not going to put us on a rocket or spacecraft that they think is not ready to launch.”

Reed echoed this focus on safety in his comments, saying that SpaceX has undertaken a process “to ensure that this phase is ready to go and absolutely safe for the crew to fly, as we do for every mission.”

He added: “We want to make sure it’s the safest. We all certified it as [that way]and that we are confident that we will be able to fly with crew members.”

Russia operates six modules aboard the International Space Station.

Russia operates six modules aboard the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA is presenting Crew-5 as an unprecedented international space collaboration opportunity, citing Kikina’s presence on a US commercial spacecraft as evidence – a first for any Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut. (Kikina’s seat was booked as a result of seat swap negotiations that would see NASA astronauts continue to be stationed on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft they have flown for years.)

However, Crew-5 training is taking place amid even more turbulence between the two main partners of the ISS: NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

After months of threats from Roscosmos officials, new head Yuri Borisov said in July that his agency would leave its partnership with the ISS “after 2024,” when the current agreement expires.

Borisov later elaborated on this statement, saying that Roscosmos “will begin the exit process” around 2024 as it prepares to build and operate the Russian space station at the end of the decade. NASA and international partners stressed in today’s briefings that separation talks are ongoing in the coming years.

Russian orbital space station

Artist’s concept of the Russian Orbital Space Station, Roscosmos’ next advertised flight after the International Space Station. (Image credit: Roscosmos)

The ISS Coalition met Friday (July 29) at its regular Multi-Stakeholder Coordination Board (MCB) meeting to discuss plans, NASA’s head of human spaceflight Katie Lueders told reporters.

“Our goal instructs us to keep the space station operational until 2030,” Lueders said, referring to legislation awaiting US President Joe Biden’s signature to extend NASA’s involvement until that date. (According to media reports, Biden will sign the law next week.)

Partners wishing to continue the relationship beyond 2024, Lüders added, “are also working on their plans and are gradually seeking support.”

As for what’s next for Russia, “we’ll have to wait and see what the government wants from each of us,” she said. “Honestly, they are still in the process of getting approval. The goal will be to discuss their progress at our next MCB which will be scheduled in the next six or seven months.”

Echoing past comments by Roscosmos about the Russian components of the ISS, which are designed to last 15 years and in some cases approach 25 years in orbit, the agency’s chief executive for manned spaceflight programs said it was time to prepare for a station replacement. But this will not be an instant process.

“We are studying the projects of the new station, but we are still working on extending the work, and we do not yet know for how long,” Sergei Krikalev said in Russian at a briefing. his commentaries were translated into English on the spot.

“When there is a technical reason for termination… we will, of course, coordinate our engagement procedures with our partners to make this as smooth as possible for all participants in the program,” he added.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which supplies the Kibo science module and robotics to the ISS, “continues to work closely with international partners to ensure the stability of this operation,” said Hiroshi Sasaki, the agency’s vice president and general director of manned spaceflight. chief technology officer, at the same briefing.

“We don’t have any issues with the expansion, so we want to continue to support the program,” Sasaki continued, but added that technical evaluations are ongoing.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) and on facebook (will open in a new tab).

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