A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched a Dragon capsule into orbit, but an anomaly with three of the four thruster pods on the capsule threatened to end the mission abruptly. Two thruster pods are now operating successfully, with the other two planned to follow shortly.
The Falcon 9's 1 March liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, went according to plan, but an anomaly was noted shortly after the Dragon separated from the second stage. The live feed from SpaceX and NASA both cut off immediately after the announcement.
One has to be careful about assessing root cause too early," says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "It looks like there was potentially some blockage in the oxidizer pressurization, and it looks like we’ve been able to free that blockage, or maybe a stuck valve, and we’ve been able to free that up by cycling the valves and essentially pressure-hammering the valves to free that up.
The four thruster pods contain 18 Super Draco thrusters, which are crucial to guiding the capsule towards the International Space Station, where it is scheduled to deliver supplies. Three of the four pods must be operating in order to approach the ISS with sufficient safety margins, says NASA. Should the two remaining thrusters come online, the earliest docking opportunity is on 3 March.
"There's no debris or fluid or gas leakage that we're aware of, all systems appear to be intact and functioning quite well at this point," says Musk. "Hopefully things keep going in that direction."
Several thruster burns are planned to raise the perigee, or lowest point of orbit, as well as position the communications antenna and put the spacecraft on an approach trajectory to the ISS.