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A Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) cargo ship loaded with more than a ton of spare parts, science equipment and crew supplies bound for the International Space Station returned safely into orbit March 1, 2013, but trouble with the capsule's rocket thrusters for the $133 million flight certainly caused a few headaches.
CBS News reports that six-and-a-half hours after launch, after extensive troubleshooting and analysis, it appeared company engineers had resolved the problem, bringing all four sets of thrusters on line and setting the stage for a delayed rendezvous with the space station.
But it was touch and go in the early stages.
After a well-executed launch, flight controllers faced either a sticky valve or possible blockage in a helium pressurization line that prevented three of the ship's four sets of maneuvering thrusters from operating.
Unable to orient itself toward the sun or carry out any other major maneuvers, deployment of the ship's solar panels was delayed, leaving the spacecraft in "free drift" on battery power alone.
An official statement from SpaceX naturally chose to highlight the positives of the mission. The company stated that they had “successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to orbit for SpaceX’s second mission under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. Falcon 9 completed its job perfectly, continuing its 100 percent success rate.”
“Falcon 9 was designed to be the world’s most reliable rocket, and today’s launch validated this by adding to Falcon 9’s perfect track record with our fifth success in a row,” said Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX.
The company does admit that after Dragon separated from Falcon 9’s second stage approximately nine minutes after launch, a minor issue with some of Dragon’s oxidizer tanks was detected.
Within a few hours, SpaceX engineers had identified and corrected the issue, normalizing the oxidizer pressure and returning operations to normal. Dragon recomputed its ascent profile as it was designed to and is now on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) with possible arrival on March 3, 2013, just one day past the original timeline.
Dragon is the only spacecraft in the world today capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth. Dragon will stay on station for a three-week visit, during which astronauts will unload approximately 1,200 pounds of cargo and fill the capsule with return cargo, for return to Earth.
Dragon is filled with supplies for the ISS, including critical materials to support science investigations. Later in March, Dragon will return a payload that includes research results, education experiments and space station hardware.
Updates on the CRS-2 mission can be found at spacex.com/webcast.