Disappointingly, the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying a four-person crew to the International Space Station was halted two minutes after a problem with the system used to ignite the Falcon 9’s first stage engines.
Crew-6 commander Stephen Bowen, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, astronaut Andrey Fedayev and Emirati astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, the first Arab assigned to a long-duration spaceflight, scrubbed and waited patiently inside the spacecraft while the rocket’s propellants fired. Drained.
The next release opportunity comes at 1:22 a.m. EST Tuesday, but it was not immediately clear what caused the problem with the engine ignition fluid or how long it might take to fix the problem. The liquid is a chemical called triethylaluminum triethylboron, or “tea DEP.”
If the crew fails to leave the stadium on Tuesday, the next chance will come on March 2.
It was Crew Dragon’s first last-minute launch due to a technical glitch since shuttles began ferrying astronauts to the space station in 2020, ending NASA’s sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry astronauts to the lab.
To the chagrin of the crew, the last-minute scrub ended SpaceX’s chance to launch three Falcon 9s in just 13 hours, scheduled to launch two sets of Starlink Internet satellites into orbit in Florida and California later that afternoon. It was not immediately clear if those flights would continue on schedule.
But flight safety comes first, and after engineers have had a chance to figure out what went wrong, SpaceX will no doubt fix the igniter problem. The only question is how long.
Whenever they depart, Bowen and company will be greeted at the station by Crew-5 commanders Nicole Mann, Josh Kasada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and astronaut Anna Kikina. They arrived at the station last October and plan to return to Earth on March 6 to complete a 151-day mission.
Greeting the Crew-6 flyers were Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Bedlin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. They visited the lab last September and originally planned to fly home in March.
But their Soyuz MS-22 shuttle was crippled on December 14 when a micrometeoroid ruptured a coolant line. After an analysis, Russian engineers concluded that the spacecraft could not be safely used again because the sensing systems could overheat.
Instead, a replacement Soyuz — MS-23 — launched last Thursday, carrying equipment and supplies instead of a crew. The shuttle docked with the station on Saturday night, giving Prokofiev and his crew a safe ride home.
But to get the crew rotation schedule back on track, the trio must spend an additional six months in space, returning home this fall after a full year in orbit. They will share the station with Crew 6 most of the time.
Alneyadi, a father of six, will be the second Emirati to fly in space, but the first will require a six-month stay on the station. During his trip, the two Saudi flyers will visit the laboratory complex for a week as part of a commercial mission managed by Houston-based Axiom Space.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting,” Alniadi said after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center last week. “It’s for science, to spread knowledge about how important it is to fly (in space) and to push the boundaries of exploration, not just in leading countries.
“Our region is also thirsty to learn more. And I think we can be ambassadors on these missions. We can come back with knowledge and share everything we’ve learned with everyone.”