Before the private space company Ilona Mask can use her rockets to transport NASA astronauts in 2018, they have to do a lot of preparatory work.
The successful launch of Falcon 9 this weekend will set the stage for recovery from a crash last fall.
With the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration, SpaceX decided to focus on a short-term solution in order to deal with the problem of fire on September 1.
The first step was the modification of the filling procedure. The company is working on a new design for helium containers located inside the fuel tanks to maintain pressure.
NASA is closely monitoring the progress of SpaceX. The US space agency hired a company along with Boeing to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station until 2018. Since the space shuttles were written off in 2011, the United States was completely dependent on Russia for the transportation of crews.
SpaceX's refueling plan was discussed by the NASA Security Advisory Group. The company strongly cools the rocket fuel to make it more dense and to place more in the tanks. Missiles need additional power, because they not only deliver cargo to orbit, but also land vehicles to Earth. Ambitious plans are based on the reuse of missiles, which significantly reduces the cost of the flight. Downloading cryogenics immediately before launching keeps it from boiling while the rocket is waiting for a launch. Skeptics say that the procedure “loaded and fly” creates an additional risk, especially when there are people on board. And the problem is that calculating risk is quite difficult.
“Despite testing component and level assembly, the system often exhibits spontaneous behavior. We are concerned that any risk calculation will be uncertain, ”the advisory group said in a NASA and congress annual report.
“We strongly recommend that you carefully study this issue and ensure that any decision takes into account whether the additional risk justifies the result. The decision should not be made due to secondary factors, such as schedule and budget, ”added the investigators.
NASA is particularly sensitive to the safety of the crew. In the course of a 30-year history, two crews died due to equipment failures caused unexpectedly in proven operating systems. The 1986 explosion of the Challenger occurred due to the carrier rocket sealing ring damaged at launch. The ring allows hot gases to separate from the rocket. The disaster, in which seven people died, happened 73 seconds after the start.
The second shuttle Columbia collapsed as it flew through the atmosphere for landing in 2003. NASA was not aware that the left wing of the spacecraft had been damaged 16 days before, when a piece of foam insulation the size of a suitcase had fallen from an external fuel tank during launch. NASA also did not know that lightweight foam was able to pierce a hole in a wing panel made of monolithic carbon composites. The accident caused the death of seven more people. “The trick is to listen to the equipment and respond to its problems,” said Michael Leinbach, a former director of the launch of shuttles, who led the team that studied the remains of Colombia to determine the cause.
“A few successful launches can relax,” says Leinbach. - “It is easy to say that you need to be vigilant, but it is not always possible. And even harder if the ego overshadows common sense and engineering solutions. ”
NASA's goal is to reduce the chances of losing up to 1 to 270. This is about three times better than the risk of flying the shuttle after the upgrade. The main threat comes from potential orbital debris.
SpaceX is planning an unmanned test flight of the passenger space ship Dragon in November. Boeing is focused on the same test of its CST-100 Starliner in June 2018.