SpaceX Ready To Fly 29th Cargo Mission For NASA After Replacing Another Valve

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SpaceX and NASA are ready to fly the space agency’s 29th cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with the Cargo Dragon spacecraft. The mission, CRS-29, will launch on the Falcon 9 rocket from Florida tomorrow evening after its launch readiness review ended favorably earlier today. SpaceX has launched more than three dozen crewed and cargo missions with its Dragon spacecraft, with tomorrow’s mission being initially set to fly at the end of last week. The reason for the delay is as common as it can get, with SpaceX detecting faulty valves on this Dragon vehicle, which is set to fly for the second time.

SpaceX Targets November 9th For Cargo Dragon Launch Less Than 48 Hours After Starlink Launch

SpaceX’s Dragon program focuses more on crewed flights to the ISS since it is the only company capable of flying humans to space from U.S., soil. Right now, the firm has the firm has seven Dragon spacecraft in its fleet, with four of these being crew capable of spacecraft and the remaining dedicated to cargo flights like tomorrow’s mission.

SpaceX’s CRS-28 cargo mission suffered from an in space anomaly when a valve responsible for isolating thruster leaks to prevent propellant loss jammed. The mission, flown for NASA, successfully splashed down earlier this year, with NASA’s commercial crew program manager Steve Stich explaining that the stuck valve did not create a risk for the mission since it was part of a backup system.

After CRS-28, the next Dragon mission was a crewed launch that put four astronauts on the ISS in August. The Crew-7 launch was initially scrubbed due to valve problems on the Crew Dragon spacecraft after SpaceX detected a nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) leak on one of the Crew Dragon’s sensors.

The Crew-5 Dragon is visible in the night sky late in Florida as it returns to Earth in March 2023. Image: NASA

NTO was again the reason for the delay in the CRS-29 mission, explained SpaceX’s senior director for human spaceflight Benji Reed, earlier today. According to him, SpaceX constantly inspects and checks the valves and plumbing systems on the Dragon spacecraft. As part of this evaluation process, it identified a leak in a valve and decided to replace the valve as part of its repair and replacement process.

NTO is a propellant for the Dragon’s thrusters, and the post-valve-replacement propellant load still showed a small amount of vapor around the Dragon’s thrusters. However, this vapor saw a “substantial reduction” when the system was fully pressurized and shared Reed. The remaining minuscule amount of vapor gave SpaceX confidence that the system behaved normally and the readings were within acceptable levels.

SpaceX tests valves for the Dragon capsules in its McGregor facilities, and upgrades to these have focused on changes to enable them better to simulate conditions in space and in the salty ocean.

The CRS-29 Cargo Dragon spacecraft will spend a month docked to the ISS before returning to Earth. Tomorrow’s mission will see it fly 6,500 pounds of cargo through SpaceX’s 80th Falcon launch of the year. Its return journey will be significantly lighter, as NASA plans to bring back 3,800 pounds of cargo from the space station to Earth.

As part of the thousands of pounds of cargo that will fly to space is a laser communications module that will beam down data from the ISS to a satellite at 1.2 Gbps. Another ISS extension flying on CRS-29 is an atmospheric gravity wave imager, the first of its kind flown by NASA. This is the AWS experiment that aims to analyze the interactions between space and Earth weather to try and understand their impact on satellite communications.

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