SpaceX's Dragon is still on track to link up with the space station despite suffering a glitch after launch on Friday morning. But the glitch has delayed the window for docking from Saturday until Sunday at the earliest, possibly even longer. "We'd keep it [Dragon] up there for a month at least trying to sort out any issues," SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said during a press conference this afternoon.
Docking delayed from Saturday to Sunday, possibly even longer
Fortunately for the company, Dragon probably won't have to wait that long. The spacecraft was able a perform a critical engine burn on Friday afternoon, raising its orbit enough to stop it from re-entering Earth prematurely and putting it on a trajectory to reach the station. NASA and SpaceX still need to review the data of what went wrong before SpaceX is allowed to approach the station, however.
If SpaceX can't get Dragon to the space station in a month, it will have to return to Earth along with all the cargo it's carrying, which includes science experiments and noncritical supplies. In that case, SpaceX would also receive only partial payment from NASA on its $1.6 billion contract for 12 cargo flights. This mission was supposed to be Dragon's third flight to the space station and its second cargo flight.
Dragon could stay in orbit for up to a month
Dragon's troubles began Friday after it reached orbit and disconnected from the Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX observed lower-than-expected pressure readings in Dragon's oxidizer tanks, preventing the company from turning on all four of the spacecraft's thruster pods, which are necessary for making an approach to the space station. "We think it was essentially a glitch of some kind, not a serious thing," Musk said. At first, SpaceX was only able to activate two thrusters, but as of Friday at 4:04 PM ET, all four thrusters had successfully been turned on, according to NASA. SpaceX is still tracing the root cause of the problem, which Musk speculated could be caused by ice or some other blockage.
Update: Musk was upbeat on SpaceX's chances to complete Dragon's cargo delivery to the space station as of late Friday, tweeting:
Just want to say thanks to @nasa for being the world's coolest customer. Looking forward to delivering the goods!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 1, 2013