Upcoming launch to deliver four astronauts to the International Space Station is ready for 3, 2, 1, take-off – oh, aside from NASA yet to approve a last-minute adjustment to SpaceX’s leaky toilet.
Launch of the new Crew Dragon capsule, named Endurance, is scheduled for October 31 at 2:21 a.m. EDT (6:21 a.m. UTC). This operational mission, the third for SpaceX under a commercial crew agreement with NASA, aims to deliver NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron, with ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, to the ISS. SpaceX already has has received the “go” for the Crew-3 mission launch, but NASA has yet to close an unresolved item related to recent fixes to the Crew Dragon toilets.
That the toilet was not functioning properly became apparent during the recently completed Inspiration4 mission, in which SpaceX sent an entirely private crew into orbit. Exact details were not given, but the company led by Elon Musk admitted that system upgrades would be needed.
At a press conference held On Monday, Bill Gerstenmaier, vice president of construction and flight reliability at SpaceX, finally provided more information, saying a tube in the tank came loose, which “allowed urine not to enter the storage tank but, essentially, to enter the ventilation system,” he said, adding that urine had also slipped under the floor.
Fearing a design issue, SpaceX also looked into Effort’s toilets, and of course, a similar problem was detected, said Gerstenmaier. Effort, the Crew Dragon spacecraft used for the Crew-2 mission, arrived at the ISS on April 24, where it has been moored since. The leaking toilet was not noticed because Effort only took a day to reach the ISS, while Resilience, the spacecraft used in the Inspiration4 mission, spent three days in orbit.
Tests are currently underway to confirm that no components inside Effort have been damaged by spilled urine in the past six months. Final testing, Gerstenmaier said, is expected to be completed by the end of this week. Detection of structural damage could impact the return of the capsule, which is expected to bring astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet back to Earth no earlier than November 4.
As for Endurance and the upcoming Crew-3 mission, “we solved this problem in the tank by essentially creating a fully welded structure with no more joints that can peel off and disconnect,” Gerstenmaier explained. This fix has yet to be approved by NASA, which seems likely given that the space agency has already given SpaceX the green light to launch this Sunday.
At Monday’s briefing, Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, noted his team has “some pre-flight work to do with SpaceX.” Specialists are looking for “tiny clues or tiny, tiny imperfections, that someone might look at a plot and wonder: why has this temperature increased here, or this pressure changed here,” he said. he declared. “So you’re really trying to dig into all of these kinds of things and try to figure it out, and then make it better and fly safe.”
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Chari said he had “complete confidence” in the fix, saying SpaceX quickly took care of its broken toilet.with “hundreds” of its people looking into the matter, like AP reports.
As noted, this is only the third operational mission for SpaceX and its fifth passenger flight in total. These types of minor growing pains are to be expected as NASA’s Commercial Crew program gets underway in earnest. Boeing, on the other hand, has yet to conduct a crewed flight of its Starliner spacecraft, a flight that may not to arrive until 2023.
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