The cause of the Falcon 9 engine problem that led to the aborting of a GPS satellite launch at the start of October has been determined. According to news from NASA and SpaceX, the problem that led to the delay of a commercial crew mission, which was to be carried out mid-November, has been established.
During an October 28 briefing, the Vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, Hans Koenigsmann, stated that the engine misfunctions that led to the aborting of the mission seconds to lift off on October 2 was due to a blockage on a relief valve in the engine’s gas generator responsible for thy powering of the turbopumps. By aborting the mission’s seconds from its liftoff, they could prevent the engine from hard starting itself, which would have damaged it.
The material responsible for the blockage was identified as a “masking lacquer,” a red substance similar to nail polish. The substance is applied on surfaces to protect them when aluminum engine parts are being anodized to prevent corrosion. After the process is complete, the lacquer should be removed using cleaning fluid. As per Koenigsmann, SpaceX outsourced for the anodizing work and speculated the lacquer could have remained due to changes in normal processes that may include the use of less cleaning fluid. According to him, the company had discussed with the people responsible, making them aware of the situation, and he was confident it would not happen again.
After examining SpaceX’s data from other Merlin engines, two similar engine startup signatures used in the Falcon 9 booster were found in the ones to be used in the Crew-1 commercial crew mission. SpaceX is currently replacing the engines together with one more Merlin engine mounted on a Falcon 9 scheduled to be used in launching the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean science satellite bin on November 10 this year. NASA stated on October 26 that it had rescheduled the Crew-1 launch, which had been planned for October 31 to 7:49 p.m. Eastern November 14. According to the NASA statement, the Crew-1 launch would be carried out after a thorough review of the launch vehicle performance from the Sentinel-6 launch.
NASA is still carrying out preparations for the launch of the Crew-1 mission on November 14, with the four crew members entering what Stich, a commercial crew program manager for NASA, termed as a soft quarantine at home before carrying out a strict pre-flight quarantine on October 31. according to Stich, NASA and SpaceX should carry out testing to verify that the Falcon 9 is ready for the mission to avoid further delays.