CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ─ Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) privately developed Dragon space capsule successfully docked today with the International Space Station at 8:56 a.m. ET. Friday, March 1, The Dragon had been successfully launched aboard the Falcon 9 carrier rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:10 a.m. ET. The partially reusable craft was scheduled to arrive Saturday, March 2, but a thruster problem delayed its arrival. Shortly after reaching orbit, only one of its four thrusters was functional.
According to SpaceX officials, a blockage in a line that helps pressurize the thrusters caused a malfunction. Engineers were able to repair the problem after several hours of scrambling, repeatedly opening and closing valves in the thrusters linage. They effectively were able to “pressure hammer” the system, eventually clearing the blockage.
SpaceX’s Founder and CEO Elon Musk publicly assured that the issue had been resolved and the craft was restored to normal operations.
“There’s no leakage or anything like that,” Elon said in a teleconference after the launch. “There’s no debris or fluid or gas leakage that we’re aware of. All systems seem to be intact and functioning quite well that we’re aware of.”
ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini assured a short delay wouldn’t be an issue for station operations.
“It was a pleasure to watch the SpaceX team in action,” Suffredini said on Friday. “They really methodically walked through the anomalies and did not rush to any conclusion. They focused on the important things, which is keeping the spacecraft healthy while you work through the anomalies.”
The Dragon was able to continue onward in its mission once all four thrusters were back online and the solar wings were deployed. Sunday, 5:31 a.m. ET, the ISS’s robotic arm grappled the Dragon as it made its final approach, maneuvering it to connect with a port in the station’s Harmony module. About three hours later, the docking operation was complete. The hatch between the ISS and Dragon was later opened at 1:14 p.m. ET by Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn.
The unmanned capsule carried about 2,668 pounds of scientific equipment and samples, and about 1,268 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station, including ice cream for the astronauts onboard. The resupply mission will allow the ISS to continues its missions of discovery in biology, biotechnology, human research, physical science, educational activities and other areas.
According to NASA, the Dragon is scheduled to remain docked with the ISS for about three weeks. The craft will then return to Earth carrying a payload of samples and supplies for planet side analysis and research on the effects of microgravity on plant growth, human physiology, superconductors and more. It is expected to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, California March 25.
Friday’s launch is the second of 12 flights to the ISS planned for Dragon as part of a $1.6 billion contract NASA awarded SpaceX. According to NBC news, Orbital Science Corp., a competing private aerospace company, was also contracted for an additional nine supply trips to the station.