After suffering a thruster malfunction when it achieved orbit Friday morning, SpaceX Corporation's unmanned Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the ISS this morning.
The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, that carried the Dragon into orbit, went off without a hitch on Friday morning. It lifted off from Cape Canaveral at just after 10 a.m. on March 1, carrying its charge smoothly into orbit. The launch of the previous resupply mission, back on Oct. 7, 2012, suffered a Falcon 9 engine malfunction that, fortunately, did not prevent the rocket from achieving orbit. SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 with the capability to shut down any malfunctioning engines, and simply use the remaining engines in a longer burn to achieve orbit.
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In this case, it was after the Dragon spacecraft separated from the rocket's second stage that the problem occurred.
Upon separation, the spacecraft attempted to bring its thrusters online, but detected a problem with three of its four engine pods, involving the pressurization of the system that supplies oxygen to the fuel for ignition. This problem caused the on-board computer to put the spacecraft into "passive abort" mode, which complete shut down its thruster systems and delayed deploying its solar panels.
Once the Dragon was over a communications relay station in Australia, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted:
Issue with Dragon thruster pods. System inhibiting three of four from initializing. About to command inhibit override.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 1, 2013
Working through these relay stations, the Space X ground crew managed to bring a second thruster pod online, which was the minimum requirement for deploying its solar panels, and as the solar panels were extending, they brought a third thruster pod online. Flight operations continued from there, with making corrections for their rendezvous with the International Space Station, to compensate for the technical difficulties, and they soon had all four thruster pods back online and the Dragon was on course to dock with the ISS this morning.
This is the third rendezvous that the Dragon has completed with the orbiting space station, and its second official resupply mission for the astronauts on board the ISS. It is carrying over 500 kg of supplies for the astronauts, including equipment and materials for 110 current science experiments and 50 more new experiments that are being conducted by Expedition 34.
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The Dragon spacecraft was brought in for docking by the Canadarm2, manned by ISS commander Kevin Ford and flight engineer Thomas Marshburn.
Commander Chris Hadfield tweeted after it was successfully captured:
The Dragon is ours! Maneuvering it now on Canadarm2 to a docking port, will open hatches once secure. Look forward to new smells. Great!
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) March 3, 2013
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