By Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides September 22, 2008 | 2:40:10 PMCategories: Space
SpaceX’s Falcon 1 is on the pad in the South Pacific Kwajalein Atoll ready for its fourth launch attempt, according to a blog post over the weekend from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. The countdown is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 23, between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. PDT, though the launch window will extend through Thursday if need be.
After failing to achieve orbit during the third flight attempt on Aug. 2, the team has been working full tilt to analyze the results from that flight and get Flight 4 ready. In Musk’s post-flight blog post, he stressed that he will “never give up and I mean never.” His recent e-mail adds that Flight 5 will be ready in January, Flight 6 parts are on order and Flight 7 production will begin in early 2009.
The team’s analysis of Flight 3 suggests they didn’t wait long enough after the first-stage engine was done firing to separate it from the second stage. The recently beefed-up, first-stage Merlin engine had more kick in it than the previous version of the engine, and after separation still had enough energy to run into the second stage above it, sending it tumbling off course (video below).
The fix is simple: add more of a delay after the first-stage engine stops firing before separation to ensure a clean break. Because no other anomalies were found, Flight 4 is ready for launch just over seven weeks after the last attempt. By comparison, there was a 16-month delay between the second and third launch attempts, which was mostly due to the upgrade of the Merlin engine.
The team bought a C-17 flight to send the Flight 4 vehicle out to Kwajalein and is there now preparing for the start of the countdown. It is expected that the launch will again be available to view via webcast at www.spacex.com.
If they are unable to launch by Thursday, the next available launch window at Kwajalein is in late October.
Flight 4 of Falcon 1 [SpaceX]