SpaceX is slated to launch it’s next cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on February 14, and the pressure for success is high.
The company is under pressure to perform a flawless launch due to recent failures, casting a shadow of doubt on it’s ability to launch manned missions into orbit, which is the next step for Elon Musk’s pioneering operation. Though the failures should have been expected given the complexities and dangers involved in Space Flight, it won’t stop the FAA, US Air Force and NASA from placing the mission under close scrutiny.
With last September’s AMOS-6 launch pad failure, which was caused by a ruptured helium tank on the Falcon 9 vehicle, the company’s ambition to make a 2018 target of sending humans into space has come into serious doubt, with NASA safety experts questioning the reliability of the Falcon 9. According the The Wall Street Journal, a recent US Government Accountability Office investigation found serious systemic flaws on SpaceX’s rockets, sighting “persistent cracking of vital propulsion-system components.” Although there is no evidence that the cracks had anything to do with the AMOS-6 failure, it is something that will need to be addressed swiftly if SpaceX wants to avoid letting the 2018 manned mission target slip through its fingers. According to SpaceX, the engines have been designed to withstand such cracks, but are reportedly working on a solution to eliminate them completely.
2017 will be a crucial time for the company, who are dealing with commercial pressures in addition to the pressure of creating a safe manned operation into space. Space flight has always been fraught with danger given the sheer amount of energy needed to get to orbit, however with much higher ambitions than just low-earth orbit, SpaceX founder Elon Musk is unlikely to be phased by the challenges ahead.
The company will launch it’s Dragon cargo vehicle on the Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A on 14 February, with crew aboard the ISS already starting to prepare for the docking process.