SpaceX’s second astronaut flight is off until mid-November because red paint drips into small vents in two rocket engines, which now need to be replaced.
SpaceX and NASA officials announced the discovery of the potentially harmful pollution on Wednesday.
The clogged holes were found after the interrupted launch of a GPS satellite on 2 October. Two of these engines were contaminated with the bright red coating that protects engine parts during cleaning.
SpaceX later found the same problem with two of the nine booster engines on the rocket that will launch four astronauts to the International Space Station. It will be SpaceX’s second launch of astronauts to NASA after a successful test flight earlier this year.
Engine problems caused SpaceX and NASA to encounter the launch on November 14 two weeks later than planned.
A company vice president, Hans Koenigsmann, said new procedures are being implemented to prevent the problem.
“The important part, I think, for us is that we caught it before anything happened,” Koenigsmann told reporters. “Really important to us that we fix it … and make sure it never happens again.”
The clogged vents – located in the engine gas generators – are only one-sixth of an inch (1.6 millimeters).
Built-in computers detected the problem and stopped the countdown on October 2 for the last few seconds. The contaminated engines could have been severely damaged if they had fired, Koenigsmann said.
The cleaning process is performed by an external company that was not identified. The problem appears to have surfaced over the past few months, he noted, affecting brand new boosters, but not the older ones that have already been recycled several times.
SpaceX’s next launch of NASA – a satellite for monitoring sea level change – is scheduled for November 10 from California following the replacement of a contaminated engine.
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