Science

SpaceX Capsule In Trouble: Musk: 'We Have A Problem'

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 01, 2013 01:04 PM EST

UPDATE: 4:42 PM EST March 1, 2013: At approximately 4 p.m. EST Musk reported that the issue has been resolved. "Thruster pods one through four are now operating nominally," Musk posted on Twitter. "Preparing to raise orbit. All systems green."

The SpaceX Dragon capsule encountered a problem on its way to the International Space Station.

The vehicle launched on Friday Mar. 1 at 10:10 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Thirty minutes after the launch, however, SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted on Twitter that there was a technical issue with the capsule's thrusters.

"Issue with Dragon thruster pods," Musk wrote. "System inhibiting three of four [pods] from initializing. About to command inhibit override."

The problem resulted in a delay in initiating the capsule's solar arrays, which are used to generate power.

"Holding on solar array deployment until at least two thruster pods are active," Musk tweeted not long afterward.

It is preferable that two thrusters be used in order for the capsule to finish its mission. After launching, the capsule can stay on battery power for 18 hours. A news briefing regarding the capsule's status will be held later on Friday.

The launch marks the third of SpaceX's missions to the space station. The company launched a demonstration flight in May 2012 and a supply mission in October. Through a contract with NASA, it is expected that 12 resupply missions will take place.

Friday's Dragon capsule contains over 2,300 pounds of cargo, including supplies and experiments for the station. The capsule is expected to arrive at the station on Saturday morning, when the crew will attach the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station using a robotic arm. After spending over three weeks at the station, the capsule will depart and parachute into the Pacific Ocean.

In October, one of that capsule's nine first-stage engines shut off prematurely. The company said it was a result of a flawed engine jacket and claimed to have resolved the problem. Despite the setback, the capsule arrived at the station without delay.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell says that the SpaceX rocket is made to handle engine failure.

"Though you never necessarily want to see it happen," Shotwell says, "it's nice that we've demonstrated the vehicle as it was designed."

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